Wednesday, 5 February 2020

How to approach the subject of flexible working

How to ask for flexible working

Our Senior Coach Kate Mansfield, spoke to Louise Deverell-Smith, founder of Daisy Chain about the subject.

We know that when you are returning to work, concerns about how to balance life (which may include continuing caring responsibilities) with work again are a concern for many individuals.

Louise Deverill-Smith, who founded a platform to connect parents with flexible employers, talked to Kate about the shift in perspective she has seen from many employers and shares some of her top tips about how to approach the subject when returning to work.

Louise says “Whilst flexible working is not necessarily the norm as yet, it is definitely not the taboo subject that it once was. Many employers now offer agile working, which encourages flexible working and hot-desking. Many of our clients are thriving as they attract and retain great people, offer a productive and supportive working environment and generate respect and gravitas along the way”.

However Louise very much appreciates that many women (and men) find approaching the subject of flexibility daunting, and that this is particularly difficult for those seeking to gain a foothold back into an organisation following an extended break.

Louise shares with us some of her top tips on ways to approach the subject:

Really know what you’re asking for

Flexibility can take many different shapes and forms and certainly doesn’t necessarily mean part-time. Consider carefully what options may work for you and then consider how you can make that work for your employer.

For example, map out the various options and consider them fully:

  • Do you want to condense your hours to have a Friday off? Work out exactly what this looks like. Could you reduce a lunch break to work a shorter day later in the week in order to make this possible?
  • Does starting early and leaving early meet your needs? 
  • Could 1 or 2 days of home working make the difference to you? 
  • Can you build in a review period so that you can trial the new arrangement? 
Be aware of the difference between formal and informal flexibility and what might be possible at the discretion of an open minded and supportive Manager.

Manage business worries

When some employers hear the words ‘flexible working’, they automatically associate that with reduced productivity, time out the office and an impact on their commercial outcome. Ensure your proposal considers all critical aspects from a team perspective and present your proposal as a business case solution, which has thought about any elements that the employer may see as a risk.

Reassure them that even if your hours are less, the output will meet the needs of the job (put it in a spreadsheet if necessary), that your time in the office will be nothing but productive and that you are dedicated to your role and the company.

Consider your timing 

Many individuals worry about when to raise the subject of flexibility and worry that not raising it at interview could go against them later on when they might wish to revisit the subject. Louise agrees that it is important to only raise it once an employer is aware of your skills, experience and value to them - lead with that in the conversation. 
Some routes back to work such as a returnship will offer the chance for you to trial the ways you prefer to work and present an opportunity later in the programme to re-visit this and potentially change the way that you work. Equally if important to you to start with a level of flexibility from the outset, do your due diligence on the employer and their working culture and go in with an informed expectation of how it is likely to work in this environment. Don’t be afraid to raise it with the same tips above in mind – a solution-focused approach that emphasises the skills you bring and practical solutions for how you will deliver. 

Remember why you’re asking for it 

Always keep the reason you’re asking for flexible working at the forefront of your mind. It might be to help with childcare, to save costs or to just give you a better work/life balance – whatever it is, know that this is the overriding reason that this is important to you and this is your driver for making it work for both you and your employer.








Louise Deverell-Smith is founder of Daisy Chain - a free online platform for parents where they can match and connect with flexible employers to enhance their careers and work-life balance.







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Thursday, 23 January 2020

Gemma's story - changing from commercial property law to podiatry



Gemma changed career from commercial property law to podiatry. Here is her story...

I made the change to podiatry after working for ten years as a commercial property lawyer and after taking a two-year break following my second child. 


When my second child was born I decided that “if a job was going to take me away from my children, then it had better be something I really care about.” After researching a number of health professions I decided podiatry offered the combination of variety and flexibility I really needed in my life – as well as the satisfaction that would come from working with patients.

Today I work for the NHS in Greenwich, treating patients at a hospital clinic and out in the community. As a podiatrist, I’ve been able to change work patterns as circumstances have evolved. I’ve just restructured my working hours to a three day a week arrangement, spread across four days. It means I am able to collect my children from school three days a week.

Many podiatrists work privately, either within existing clinics or practices, or running their own business. It’s a great career to combine with childcare as you can keep the hours you need but still make a comfortable living.

The experience of a previous career where there was a less positive work-life balance makes me really appreciate my current situation more. I would say to anyone who is working, take your job and look at what the best bits are – and I bet you there will be a career in podiatry that offers those things and more but with far fewer of the drawbacks.

To practice as a podiatrist you need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, which requires a degree in podiatry from one of 13 specialist university courses around the UK. Most school leavers will have A levels in science, but mature students – who have historically made up a large part of the intake for podiatry courses – may have alternative qualifications, as long as they can prove they meet the required standard.

I trained at the University of East London after taking evening classes and an Open University Course to get my science up to scratch. It’s not an easy transition, but a shortage of podiatrists at the moment means that newly qualified professionals are entering jobs immediately after graduating.

The more research I did into health careers, the more I realised that podiatry ticked all the boxes. I couldn’t find anything else that offered the variety: different avenues of progression with the ability to specialise, the job satisfaction in bringing immediate relief to patients and the flexibility in terms of being able to balance it with the rest of my life.


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Friday, 10 January 2020

Women Returners champions returnships in the North of England: Interview with Jude Harvey

Jude Harvey returnships in the North of England

Women Returners has just opened an office in Leeds led by Jude Harvey. In this blog, we talk to Jude about Women Returners' plans for expansion in the North of England.

Why has Women Returners decided to open an office in Leeds?

Quite simply because we want to champion the growth of returnships and supported hire programmes in the North of England. We've been working with organisations to help professional women return to work in the region for some time. Last year we ran the first cross-company return to law programme in Leeds and Manchester and we work with companies such as FDM, Mott MacDonald and Balfour Beatty on cross-UK programmes with opportunities in the region. We believe there's huge potential to bring the benefits of returnships to many more organisations and the highly skilled and experienced individuals who live in the North.

What is your focus for 2020?

I'm passionate about partnering with organisations to run more returner programmes in the North. Our vision is to make hiring of professionals who have taken an extended career break a normal part of regular recruitment. Large organisations here have the same challenges as everyone else, but they may have not used the solutions some of the companies in the South East have.

We'll be getting the word out that we're here.

On Tuesday 25 February (11am to 12pm) we're running a free webinar for returners - How to Return to Work After a Career Break. I'd encourage anyone who's thinking of returning to work to join myself and my colleague Kate Mansfield as we draw on hundreds of case studies to discuss returnships, strategic volunteering, networking and a variety of non-standard job-hunting techniques which career returners have used successfully to get back into work. You can find out more and register here.

And I also want to encourage individual returners to join our free Women Returners Professional Network. They'll find lots of support and advice and will be the first to hear about new opportunities in their area.

We'll also be engaging with businesses and demonstrating how returnships can help tackle challenges around recruiting talent and impact inclusion and diversity. On Tuesday 17 March (9.30am to 10.30am) we're running a free Employer Webinar so that employers can learn more about the benefits of returner programmes. Employers can find out more and register here.

What is your background?

I was born in Scotland and have lived in Leeds for 15 years - I'm married to a Yorkshireman. I worked in diversity and inclusion - and prior to that learning and development - for a number of years. While I was head of diversity and inclusion at a large telecoms company I looked at returner programmes which led me, naturally, to working with Julianne and the Women Returners team, as the experts in this area.

We worked together for about four years. I'd see women arrive at the beginning of the programmes we ran with little confidence but lots of talent and ability and then move confidently into permanent positions four months later. This was something that I personally found incredibly rewarding.

Having worked client-side, I understand some of the challenges that organisations face and can advise them on how Women Returners' solutions help address these.

I joined Women Returners in September last year and I'm hugely excited about our expansion plans.

Which geographical areas will you focus on?

We'll be focussing on growing programmes centred on the northern hubs of Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Leicester, York, Newcastle, Sheffield and Bradford as there are lots of key businesses in these areas.

Employers who are interested in learning more about returnships and how to recruit high-calibre professionals into their organisation should contact me at jude@womenreturners.com


Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Government Equalities Office Returner Toolkit

Return to work toolkit


The Government Equalities Office has recently published a Returner Toolkit which we co-wrote with our friends at Timewise. 

This amazing free resource has 51 pages of advice and tips - it's a A-Z for returning to work. We'd encourage everyone to have a look at it, whatever stage you're at in the return to work journey. You can start from the beginning and work through it, or dip in and out of the stages that are most relevant to you.

You'll find advice, ideas and information to help you on a range of topics:

  • setting yourself up for success
  • building your work confidence
  • getting clear on your career direction
  • updating your skills and knowledge
  • networking
  • finding job opportunities
  • exploring options for flexible working
  • writing your CV and cover letter
  • preparing for interviews
  • negotiating effectively
  • getting ready to return to work

There is also a detailed 'resources and signposts' section with links to lots of organisations and resources for general advice, thinking about returning to work, preparing to return and returning to work.

You can access the free toolkit via GOV.UK here


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Thursday, 21 November 2019

Interview with Women Returners' Head of Coaching

Karen Danker Women Returners Head of Coaching

In this blog, we speak to Women Returners' Head of Coaching, Karen Danker, about her background, why she joined Women Returners, what her role entails and her hopes for the future...


What is your professional background, Karen?

I started my career as a solicitor and then moved to a City law firm to run their graduate recruitment and development function. After a brief career break in the US with my young family, I returned to the UK and joined Women Like Us (now Timewise), a brilliant flexible working consultancy, where I first gained real insight into the challenges women often faced returning to work after a career break. I loved working with them to help them find quality flexible work that matched their seniority and skills, and to provide great talent to organisations. Most recently, I worked in the charity sector, running leadership development programmes for young adults and professional women. The common thread that’s run through my different roles has been this real driver to enable others to develop and flourish so that they can fulfil their potential in line with their skills and values.

Why did you decide to join Women Returners?

I'd known about Women Returners for quite a long time and had been following their progress. I was really excited about what they were doing - championing a route back to work that really helped maximise the success for returners. I also knew they were a voice within Government and had built partnerships with big corporates. I was excited by the impact they were having. 

Their values also chimed with mine - and that's become increasingly important to me as I've got older. Their aim to make a positive difference to society was a key driver for me. They're professional, innovative and ambitious and that for me makes them a really dynamic organisation to be part of.

What is your role at Women Returners?

I joined in January 2019 focusing on one-to-one coaching at first. As Head of Coaching, the main part of my role now is to be the focal point for our brilliant team of coaches and to make sure we continue to innovate, evolve and develop our materials and resources - and, of course, ourselves as coaches.

What do you think makes Women Returners' coaching work?

Firstly, we have a team of really skilled, talented coaches with backgrounds in the corporate world. They understand both our clients' business needs and the experience of being on a long career break and the challenges of returning to a professional role. They're also incredibly warm and empathetic people. So for returners who start on day one feeling a little anxious about returning to work, our coaches really help them start well and progress successfully.

Secondly, we work with our clients from the beginning to understand what their business needs are so that we can tailor a programme to support them. A key objective for us is to set up programmes for success from the onset. We offer initial training for a client's recruitment team and line managers so that they understand upfront the return-to-work marketplace and the practical steps they need to put into place to allow returners to perform at their best both at interview and when they join the organisation.

For returnship programmes, we run our Career Returners Coaching Programme which 
has been specifically tailored to address the practical and psychological challenges faced by professionals re-entering the workforce. The coaching workshops are very effective as they coincide with various transition stages the returners are going through. Our coaching for supported hire roles follows a similar pathway. The coaching is tailored to the group or individual and includes building professional confidence, sustainable working patterns, networking skills and action-planning for success.


We also offer a variety of Return to Work coaching for individuals outside of our corporate programmes, which include CV, LinkedIn and interview preparation coaching. 

We get fantastic feedback so we know the process works!

Finally, how do you see the job market for returners developing?

My hope is that, with people having longer working lives, taking career breaks for all sorts of reasons will become the norm. I'd also like to see supported routes back into work become a normal part of any recruitment strategy to find senior talent. I'd like to see
all returners have the ability to hit 'play' on their ambitions and careers knowing that they will be sought-after by top organisations. And when they do return, to know that they will be supported, trained and mentored so that they can get back up to speed really quickly. I hope all organisations will recognise that if they're not doing this they are missing out on some great talent.






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Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Gillian's story: Returning to corporate life after a 15-year break


Fifteen years is a long time to be away from the corporate world but re-joining has been easier than I thought. For anyone considering returning to work, my advice is to go for it!

Before my career break, I worked for a global accountancy firm as an employment tax manager. My route there took me through university and working for a number of smaller accountancy firms before joining one of the Big Four. It was a dynamic, fast-paced environment, where I got a number of exciting opportunities and learned a lot. 

Two children and seven years later, the company was offering voluntary redundancy and my husband and I decided it would a great time to take a career break and spend more time at home with the children. That was 2003 – little did I know my career break would last 15 years!

During that time, I’ve been pretty busy. Working from home, I set up and ran an e-commerce business before selling it on in 2011. I also started childminding for my family and friends in 2003 and over the years, gradually built up a nursery business which now employs qualified nursery nurses, provides childcare for 30 children and runs smoothly with a manager in place.

Running both businesses allowed me to carry on developing my financial skills while developing a host of other skills! From number crunching to nappies, it was great to be home-based over the years while my kids were growing up. Now, with two older teenagers, I felt the time was right to take the big step back into corporate life.

After mustering up some courage and carrying out a bit of research I found Women Returners. It seemed perfect for me. I updated my CV, got a crash course in LinkedIn and applied for a role that seemed a great fit on their cross-company Returners to Financial Service, Legal and FinTech Scotland programme.

Grant Thornton appealed to me as they seemed to be doing things a little differently and I really liked their dynamic outlook. When I walked through the door for my interview, I immediately felt at home. My delight on hearing the news that I’d been successful was short-lived and quickly overtaken by the dreaded imposter syndrome. Would I really be able to learn new systems, to tackle this role, to keep up with the fast pace of corporate life after 15 years?

I really shouldn’t have worried – or had the sleepless nights. My experience of returning has been smooth and everyone in my team has been very supportive. While I had doubts that I wouldn’t be able to operate at the same level as before, I’ve been encouraged not to be too hard on myself and that it will take time to learn new systems and get back up to speed.

Importantly, I have been supported by a buddy, a mentor, coaching and an understanding people manager. This support has allowed me to relax into the role, knowing that I can ask for help when I need it. Grant Thornton also promote agile working to offer their staff a healthy work-life balance. I have chosen to work part-time, but I can also work from home when possible. This definitely provides a great work-life balance and it works well for me.

Now, over two months into the role, I’ve started to get into my stride and I was thrilled to have my contract extended. It has given me confidence, knowing that I am doing a good job. Now, I’m starting to work directly with clients and I’m enjoying this interaction and being back in a professional working environment.

Fifteen years is a long time to be away from the corporate world but re-joining has been easier than I thought. For anyone considering returning to work, my advice is to go for it! You will be surprised at just how much you have to offer employers and your confidence will soar. What you get back in return is simply invaluable.




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Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Return to work planning for your financial wellbeing




Our guest blogger, Ian Simons from the Chartered Insurance Institute, highlights some financial aspects to consider when returning to work.

Planning your return to work is a great opportunity to take stock of your current financial situation and plan for your future. The tips below, taken from the Insuring Women’s Futures Financial Wellbeing Guide, show how you can actively engage in your own financial life journey and also raise awareness of the financial Perils and Pitfalls facing women.

Engaging in your own financial life journey

As you return or search for work you should consider the below:
1. When researching potential employers
take time to compare financial packages, pensions and perks

2. Research the gender pay gap
- reporting legislation requires employers with 250 or more employees to publish statutory calculations annually

3. Understand employers' opportunities for flexible workers – openly disclosing policies is a good sign

4. Find out from potential employers what are the career prospects for returners and those with family commitments and are there carer policies?

5. When you start a new job, check out your employer’s pension arrangements, free employer contributions and tax deductions, and fully consider joining the pension scheme. If there are options on how much to contribute, you might be surprised how much bigger your pension pot could be if you paid in at a higher rate, together with the added ‘free employer and tax relief money’

6. If you want to work part-time, in multiple jobs or temporarily, think carefully about how you can maximise your workplace pensions (including any existing policies you may have) and any eligibility criteria
that might preclude you. Reflect on whether you might be inadvertently missing out on valuable contributions

We encourage you to read the full Financial Wellbeing Guide, in particular the re-entering the workforce section, to review your personal situation in more detail.

Arming yourself with knowledge

Once you have assessed your specific situation there are many places you can go for more information including:
  • Insuring Women’s Futures website: The resource page contains research, videos and links to useful websites and tools
  • ACAS website: You can find out more here on equal pay and gender pay gap reporting
  • Your employer: Once you are back at work, many workplaces run sessions for returners or have helplines
  • Your existing pension provider: Find out the position of your existing pension schemes and understand your options for reinvestment and transferral
  • An independent financial adviser: If you need further financial advice, you can search for a qualified, local financial adviser on Findanadviser

Empowering others

This November, Insuring Women’s Futures are running a campaign called Talk 2 10K. They are challenging as many people as possible to talk to at least 10 other people about women’s financial wellbeing. To get involved all you need to do is:

  • Read the toolkit and watch the webinar
  • Organise your conversations (these can be anything from a chat with a friend to a formal session with colleagues)
  • Spend a few minutes on 21 November sharing an anecdote, photo or video from your conversations on social media – make sure to use the following in your posts - #MakeEachMomentCount #InsuringFutures #WomensFinancialWellbeing and @CII







Ian Simons is Marketing Director at the Chartered Insurance Institute. 





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Thursday, 10 October 2019

Returning to work? Don't let Imposter Syndrome hold you back

How to tackle Imposter Syndrome


Do you sometimes feel that you don't deserve your success or that your achievements are flukes that can be put down to just good luck? Do you feel that it's only a matter of time until you are 'found out'?

If you do then you're certainly not alone. These feelings are so common they have a name - Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome was first identified by psychologists in 1978.
There are three defining features: a belief that others have an inflated view of your abilities, a fear that your true abilities will be found out, and a tendency to attribute your success to luck or extreme effort. There have been many studies into Imposter Syndrome since then, including one in 2011 that found that 70% of people will experience the phenomenon at some point in their lives. And it's not just a 'women's issue' -  research now suggests that men are just as likely as women to experience impostorism. 

Imposter Syndrome is most common when we're moving out of our comfort zone and facing periods of change or uncertainty ... such as returning to work after a long career break.

If Imposter Syndrome strikes, here are our tips to help you tackle it:

1. Remember these feelings are normal. Imposter Syndrome can affect anyone, even people who seem to be the most confident and capable. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg has been quoted as saying: "There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am." And even Albert Einstein considered himself an "involuntary swindler." 

2. Avoid putting your successes down to luck. Write down all your career and personal achievements to date, and think about the role that your abilities and hard work played. It will become clear to you that your successes were largely due to your hard work and abilities – not 'just luck'. Read this blog for advice. 

3. Reconnect with your professional self. If you're doubting yourself because it's been a while since you were in the workplace, remember that you are the same professional person you always were, you are just out of practice. Aim to reframe your time outside the workplace as a positive not a negative. 

4. Ask friends and family for feedback on your strengths and skills.
 Listening to what others say about what you do well will help you challenge your negative thoughts. Remember - you're often your own harshest critic.


5. Keep a feedback log. Once you're back in a new role, keep a log of all the positive feedback you receive - via formal feedback sessions, thank you emails or verbal compliments. If Imposter Syndrome does hit, look at this log to remind yourself that you are a competent and experienced professional who deserves to be where you are.



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Thursday, 26 September 2019

Why your career break is a positive not a negative

What's great about a career break


There are lots of reasons for a career break – to care for young children or other relatives, for health reasons, to study, to travel or simply to recharge your batteries.

Far from being something to try to hide when you want to return to the workplace, there are very good reasons why you - and your potential employers - should celebrate your break.

We know from experience that returners re-enter the workplace with a fresh perspective, together with renewed energy and motivation. Employers value this too. At our Women Returners 'Back to Your Future' Conference, O2's Andrea Jones told the audience:

"There’s so much experience the returners have before their career break and they’ve gained so many skills on their career break. They come in with a really fresh pair of eyes....they can look at our processes and our systems and the ways we work quite differently. I think it’s a real breath of fresh air – and that’s what we hear from our managers."

Other employers spoke about the enthusiasm of the returners they had hired, the fact that they are incredibly efficient as time management comes more naturally to them, and their desire to contribute more broadly to the organisation rather than just doing their job. Returners were also valued as role models for younger employees of people who had taken a non-traditional career path.

Dependent on the reason for your career break, you are also likely to have developed a variety of new skills. For example:

  • If you've taken time out to care for others you will have honed your communication, time-management and organisation skills. And nothing improves negotiation ability more than getting to a compromise with a teenager! 
  • If you've done skilled voluntary work you will have developed both teamwork and leadership skills - managing volunteers is much harder than paid staff.
  • If you were travelling or studying, this can signal an openness to experiences and a motivation to learn and develop. 
  • If your break was because of a personal trauma or health issue, you will have developed resilience and fortitude.

When writing your return-to-work CV and cover letter and preparing for interviews consider everything you've done during your break. Make sure the skills and experience you've acquired come across - they are an important part of who you are now.

Switch your focus. Rather than seeing your career break as a negative to employers, focus on how it differentiates you and makes you a better employee,  gaining maturity, perspective and many new skills. You will be an asset to your next employer because of, not in spite of, your career break.


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