There is a saying that in war, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. At risk of being sanguinary about the business world, that also applies to the contemporary job front. Many women, especially, have found career plans invaded by a fresh foe—Covid-19—with multipronged attacks of lockdowns, layoffs, and recession. The coronavirus struck women more so than 2008’s recession. School closures meant children at home. Traditional service/hospitality slots held by females dwindled. Downsizings rolled back workforce gains made by women.
“I believe Covid-19 was unique,” says Flippin, known as “Dr. Candace” in her newsletter feed, at TED talks and mentoring sessions. Her new book has work and job strategies in terms widely applicable to many situations but is timed for post–Covid-19.
Its SHAPE-ly title reflects a “career framework” acronym, or strategies for job seekers and, in the current climate of recovery, job returners: S for save (an emergency reserve of funds), H for hard work, A for advocate (for oneself as well as a support network), P for perseverance, and E for education (continually advance your knowledge).
“If women can do these five things, they are in a better position to achieve their career goals,” Flippin says.
These can be adopted by males, too. “The themes derived from my research...are beneficial to anyone. It just so happens that these five themes correlated well with career self-efficacy in women. My hope is that men will share my book with the women in their lives. And if men find the concepts helpful, they are more than welcome to apply them.”
Kirkus Reviews writes, “This carefully articulated approach is very clearly and engagingly written, with Flippin using sample categories, such as ‘Red Career Zone’ and ‘Yellow Career Zone,’ and examples drawn from her personal experience.”
“I believe I hit the mark because my Kirkus review refers to the fact that readers will feel like they’ve met the mentor of their dreams,” says Flippin from her home in Atlanta, where she works as Chief Communications Officer at Acuity Brands.
“I have a day job,” she affirms, besides her workshops, lectures, appearances, nonprofit work, and counseling that have made her one of the most influential executives in Black America. In Get Your Career in SHAPE she shares wisdom gleaned during her journey, including weighing tough choices when opportunities failed to materialize or reorienting herself after the tragic death of her fiance in a car crash.
“As a child I was influenced heavily by historical accounts and stories of women navigating impossible odds, whether successful or not,” she says. “As an optimist, this concept resonated with me. Some of my favorite stories were about Anne Frank, Harriet Tubman, and Helen Keller.”
One title the Detroit native found particularly inspirational was The Value in the Valley: A Black Woman’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas (1995) by Iyanla Vanzant. “I once saw her speak in Washington, D.C., where she described how she chose to forgive herself and use the lessons of her past mistakes to create a better path for her future.”
Flippin earned degrees from Case Western Reserve University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Michigan. During her evolving role as a communications leader, she counseled a baby boomer bemoaning his inability to interact successfully with the 21st-century employees and interns always on their phones and devices. Within that same week, she heard from her young mentees approximating the reverse complaint, of elder management unable to use the rhythms, values, and technologies of a new era.
“As I tried to find information to help bridge the gap, everything I read was very negative. I went back to earn my doctorate in management to do research and study practical frameworks that were more appreciative and constructive.”
Those studies resulted in her first books, Generation Z in the Workplace (2017) and Millennials in the Workplace (2017). “I wanted to build a bridge across the generational divides at work.”
Then came the pandemic, which impacted women sorely. She cites an Oxfam International report that during one year, women globally lost more than 64 million jobs—5% of the female workforce.
She describes a cohort, a role-model figure, who shocked her by flatly stating any research to advance women in the employment sector would be “a waste of time.”
Flippin is not one to surrender to such fatalism. She writes:
For me, the reality of the self-efficacy challenges women face doesn’t mean we that we should take no steps to create the future we want for ourselves. I propose that we take steps to protect and boost our self-efficacy. This means we sometimes need a playbook, a framework or toolkit to help us navigate the unfortunate realities that come from being a woman in the workplace.
So she commenced writing Get Your Career in SHAPE. “It took nearly [three and a half] years,” she says. “The first research and manuscript took about a year, but I added another study in January 2021 to get a sense of whether or not things were changing as a result of the pandemic. I would say that it delayed the book’s publication by about 18 months.”
Feedback over Get Your Career in SHAPE has been encouraging, and Flippin expresses her lofty hope that two years after the publication she will have helped accelerate a million additional female professionals and newcomers in the economic sector. “Women can rise, especially if there is intentionality and support,” she says.
Generations X, Y, and Z remain a focus for future writing projects. “My first book came out in 2017, [and] I was one of few people out there talking about Gen Z. It’s done very well, and I plan to revisit that.”
And Flippin is watching the evolving office environment with its adaptations of remote work and shortened weeks. “A lot of 9-to-5 and at-home work [schedules] have been blended because of the pandemic. I believe there will be all kinds of work constructs that will not be traditional.” Employers as well as employees must offer flexibility in hosting such positions to remain competitive in recruiting the best, Flippin predicts.
Charles Cassady Jr. is an Ohio-based author and critic.