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Ferne Traeger, MSW '98

Helping Women Navigate the “On-Ramp” Back to Business

Ferne Traeger, LCSW, has a plan, and it’s a good one.

Ferne Traeger (MSW ’98), founder of Beyond the Boardroom, has worked for more than ten years with mostly female professionals holding degrees from the nation’s top universities, people who have “off-ramped” from the traditional 9-to-5 mainly to raise their children, and have decided to return to work. Beyond the Boardroom combines Traeger’s skills as a social worker and the business savvy she acquired earning her MBA at Columbia (’80). She takes a proactive approach towards helping clients reenter their professional fields, facilitating the transition over to the “on-ramp” to continue their careers. She utilizes networking groups, executive coaching, and presentations from individuals who have successfully reentered their fields after a long hiatus. Yet Traeger, drawing on her social work training, wants to go deeper.

She is at the beginning of a new phase of her work, developing a maternity coaching service that will ease the path of women returning to work. “It’s an enormous transition, and for the women who return, there’s not enough accommodation,” she said. “Organizations are increasingly recognizing the impact of the duality of the roles of professional and mother. I want to help alleviate the inherent stresses during this period. This involves a coaching process that encompasses pre-maternity leave preparations, the period of maternity leave including the extent of communication with the office, and ultimately the transition back to work," said Traeger.

Traeger conceived of Beyond the Boardroom (BtB) through two key experiences: having “off-ramped” on her own, and finding inspiration in the work of Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce, who in 2003 co-published “Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success” in the Harvard Business Review. The article discusses the exodus of talented women from the workforce, due to needs ranging from motherhood to eldercare to personal health, and how the business world loses tremendous benefits by stigmatizing those needs and not finding ways to re-engage or help them come back.

Traeger feels that her new initiative will benefit all parties involved, especially if the woman and her employer have felt invested in the working relationship. However, she is not naïve about the potential obstacles, particularly in the corporate environs of many Fortune 500 companies: “The problem is the corporate culture. There still may be some stigma to taking a few years off, and then coming back. It’s a slow process to turn that around.”

Still, Traeger feels she is at the vanguard of a new approach to these issues: “While there may not be a dramatic shift in the way corporations view this, it’s a movement that has legs,” she said. “More companies are willing to have flexible hours, and they want women to come back to the work force, whether they are on maternity leave or a more extended leave. Once companies begin to show they are sensitive to the particular needs of their female employees by offering flexible work arrangements, for example, they would be recognized as good places to work, and it would result in good publicity for them.”

Traeger told the Newsletter that although her working life began in business, after the birth of her daughter in the 1980s, the rigid demands of the corporate world lost its appeal to her, and she decided to get a masters degree in social work in order to pursue a career that would be more “psychically gratifying”. In the wake of September 11th, she worked for Project Liberty, an NYC-based organization formed to serve the psychological and emotional needs of people affected by the events of 9-11. During her experience with Project Liberty, she dealt with issues connected to employment when she counseled several clients who lost their workplaces, or were unable to return to their jobs in the aftermath.

In addition to running BtB and her private practice, Traeger is a faculty member at The Psychoanalytic Training Institute at The New York Counseling Center. She is also a member of two psychoanalytic training institutes, The New York Freudian Society and the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.