"I was stuck," Q&A with Kirsten Mullins who took a 15 year career break

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

Meet Kirsten Mullins, Project Manager / Expansion Team, for The Riveter. She is the coworking and community space's point person for opening each new space, ensuring everything from furniture to internet to coffee service is

ready to go when the doors open. In addition to its 3 Puget Sound locations, The Riveter has 3 outposts in Los Angeles, a newly opened office in Austin, TX, and more to come in the next 18 months across the U.S.



Kirsten eased back into full-time work after taking a 15 year break from traditional work to care for her three children. We talked with her about her journey back to paid work, and the factors she took into consideration as she went from a part-time to full-time role.


The Swing Shift: How and when did you start at The Riveter?


Kirsten: It will be two years ago this month! While I attended The Swing Shift, I became friends with two of the original investors of The Riveter and they invited me to tour the Capitol Hill location, which was still under construction. I thought the idea of what was being created was so important that I wanted to be apart of it. At the time, I was less concerned with my individual role, as I was with working for an organization that was aligned with my values and lifestyle.


What was your primary concern as you got back into the workforce? Has that fear come to pass? Did The Swing Shift assist with that?


I was terrified that I was no longer qualified for paid work. My network had dwindled, I'd been at home for 15 years with three small children, my confidence was shot and I didn't want to do what I'd done before. I was stuck and didn't know how to move forward. The Swing Shift was a great catalyst for me for a number of reasons. It was the first time - probably since I'd left the workforce, where I put the time in to work on myself. It forced me to think about my skill sets, the kinds of things I liked to do and identify a direction for myself - and do the practical things like pulling together a resume and LinkedIn profile. It was also tremendously helpful to walk into a room full of women who were all feeling something similar. 

Your past roles included some senior marketing roles in the mobile carrier industry. Was it hard to step back into a host role, which was your first assignment?


Yes and no. I was pretty adamant about finding a part time role, and the role itself was less important to me than the mission of the organization. The Riveter needed front desk help and it was part time - I think I may have been employee number 3, or 4. I was ok taking a step backward to go forwards, if that makes sense. I knew I wasn't going to stay at the front desk for long, but what a great way to meet members, understand how the business was run and dip my toes back in gradually to figure out where I wanted to fit. And it wasn't long before I'd worked my way into other roles.


When you originally came through The Swing Shift, you only wanted part-time work. Recently you switched to full-time. What precipitated that move?


I feel so fortunate with how this all turned out. At The Riveter, I've had many different roles - a lot of project based work that I was able to manage on a part-time basis. I've been involved with programming, member experience, project management for various initiatives, etc... This past summer I was asked to project manage the openings for both our Marina Del Rey & Bellevue launches. This involved managing the entire cross-functional team including operations, marketing and growth to make sure that not only was the physical space ready on time, but that everything else was aligned as well. I discovered that I really enjoyed this kind of work - I liked working with cross-functional teams, understanding how all parts interconnect and helping to make it happen. And I was good at it. After The Riveter closed their latest funding round, I knew we'd be expanding in multiple markets and I wanted to help. It was a full-time role, but I felt like I had to seize the opportunity that was in front of me. 

What’s your advice for other women who are looking to head back, but hesitate because of their time off?


Coming back after a break is hard work, but it's doable. There's no magic bullet, but the key is to take the steps forward - even if they're tiny ones, because nothing will happen if you are sitting on your couch at home staring at your four walls. Everybody's time frame is different, but I would also say not to be too hard on yourselves, or set overly ambitious deadlines. When I look back, it was sometimes the small things that made a difference, or resulted in something bigger. Just showing up - one step in front of the other. Patience and flexibility is important too. Realistically, if you've had a long pause, it's going to be hard to step right back in to what you've done before. Be open to different opportunities. People will often say to me "you're so lucky to have just fallen into this." And while I do feel lucky - I don't believe I fell into anything. None of this would have ever happened if I hadn't done a lot of the big and little things to put myself in in the right spot at the right time.


The other thing I want women to know is: Your age is an asset - no matter what anyone says. There is a lot to be said for wisdom and maturity that comes with life experience, so use that to your advantage. Recognize that your skills haven't gone away. Technology can be learned, but my experience staying at home taught me so much about managing multiple projects, timelines, multi-tasking, negotiating, working with different personalities. Leverage all of that, because organizations need it. 


Are you looking to get back to work? Join us for our upcoming Career Catalyst program starting April 24th at The Riveter- Capitol Hill. Even better, bring a friend and you both get 20% off general admission!

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