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Women’s careers often take a pause when challenges happen

Tracy Gosson

Tracy Gosson

Tracy Gosson founded the branding and marketing company Sagesse in 2007. With local, regional and national clients, business was booming and she was quite busy.

In early 2019, Gosson was just finishing up two large client projects.

“I just wasn’t feeling great,” she recalls. “Nothing major. I was kind of tired. I felt a little bloated but I just wrote it up to a lot of stress and didn’t have time to deal with it.”

When her symptoms persisted, she went to a doctor in April 2019 and was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Both blindsided and terrified, Gosson had to pause her professional career to focus on her treatment, which included several rounds of chemotherapy and a 10-hour surgery removing multiple organs.

“It was very intensive,” she said. “I dived deep into (research) like it was a client project. I wanted to know everything about (the cancer) and what I was up against.”

Many women have faced having to pause their careers because of a challenge they faced. Some like Gosson have tackled illness. Others must provide care for elderly parents. Last year a majority of child care and education duties fell to mothers when facilities were closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of women had to halt their careers due to the crisis.

This year’s Daily Record’s annual Women’s Leadership Summit looked at the essential role women play as business leaders, entrepreneurs and within their own family. Gosson, along with Julie Morales CPA of The GIANT Company, Barb Clapp, founder of Clapp Communications, and Annette March-Grier RN of Roberta’s House Inc. will be panelists discussing how they had to pause their careers due to a challenge.

Karen Bond, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant with more than 20 years experience designing programs to increase education access for first-generation students, spoke before the panel discussion about what happens when life interrupts your career.

Looking ahead during treatment

Throughout her treatment, Gosson pursued additional projects and proposals as a motivator. She signed a contract with a national client the day before she went in for her surgery.

“That contract to me was a lifeline of ‘OK. There is going to be something for me to do after I survive this,’” she recalls.

A year later, Gosson was starting to feel much better and getting back into her professional groove when the pandemic lockdowns occurred. Since work was limited, she shifted her energy toward volunteer work, including with the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance, where she could stay mentally active and utilize her skill set. She also built a website, conqueringcancer.live, to tell others about her journey and raise awareness.

Gosson kept her diagnosis private until a majority of her treatments were completed.

“If you share your story, you don’t know what new doors, connections and opportunities that may open,” she said. Many people have confided in her with stories of their own or regarding family members facing cancer. “I am being a resource and helpful to people which I enjoy.”

Moving in a new direction

Barb Clapp

Barb Clapp

In 2019, Clapp decided to sell her successful marketing and advertising company Clapp Communications that she founded in her attic nearly two decades ago.

“I had this belief that I was going to sell my company and then I was going to start telling people that I was looking for a job and then I was going to get job offers and then I was going to get my dream job and move on,” she said. “That would be the way it went.”

She was committed to the buyer to stay on until March 31, 2020, which was when lockdowns were being extended and thousands of people in the region were being laid off.

While Clapp has been doing some consulting work for companies and serving as director for the board of directors at CFG Bank, she continues to look for her dream job. It could be a position in the public, private or nonprofit sector. She wants a challenge where there is culture, collaboration, structure with flexibility and the ability to move an organization forward.

“I haven’t been bored by any means,” she said. “I just haven’t been filled up. I miss that.”

With the vaccine rollout in full force and the economy growing stronger, Clapp has begun to look for work again and asks people she interacts with to keep her in mind when positions open up.

“It is kind of hard to ask somebody to help you, but I don’t know how I am going to get a job if I don’t start asking people,” she said.

Becoming a caregiver

Karen Bond

Karen Bond

Bond entered Duke University at 16, and she recalls how her mother worked several jobs to pay for her higher education. So when her mother was diagnosed with dementia, she added caregiving to her schedule, which included her thriving professional career along with being a mother to her daughter.

“We spend so much time planning,” she said. “I am going to be here (professionally) in this number of years. I am going to do that. That whole paradigm is laughable when you are dealing with the human element of a family member who is close to you” that becomes ill.

Home health care workers would help for a few hours during the day, but Bond recalls in the last two years of her mother’s life she would only get about three to four hours of sleep. Her mom would wake up, think she had to go to work and start getting dressed at 3 a.m.

“For years, my mother was declining but I continued my career,” she said. “I don’t think I missed a meeting or anything I had to do, but it was just really hard.”

She ended up leaving her job at Johns Hopkins during the last few months of her mother’s life a year ago.

“I just realized that I wanted my memories to be there with her,” she said.

Bond took several months to grieve and “be able to see the sun again.” She joined a consulting practice doing diversity training. She recalls several friends who helped her during her mother’s illness, including sitting with her so she could go to the grocery store and installing cameras so she could check on her mom throughout the day.

When a devastating illness or event happens, most people will say ‘Call me if you need anything.’ This statement is one of Bond’s least favorite.

“I say to friends call them,” she said. “Before you make that call, think of what it is you can do. Maybe you send lunch. You could offer to come and sit. Maybe you can send your favorite book over. It is a community that gets people back on their feet. I am a better friend having gone through it. I was a good friend before but I am a much better friend now because I know what it is like.”

Women Who Lead This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.