Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Three strategies to help women achieve their full potential




Strategies to help women back to work

When we’re talking to people who are thinking about going back to work after a career break, there are certain books we recommend time and again, usually because they provide great tips on the practical elements of finding and applying for new jobs, or important strategies on overcoming psychological barriers to returning to work. We thought it would be useful to start sharing these recommendations here on our blog so that more people could benefit from them.

We’re kicking off with Tara Mohr’s Playing Big, which we love because it sets out practical tools to help women deal with the internal blocks and external challenges that prevent them from achieving their dreams, such as making that move back to the workplace.

Here are three of her strategies that we found to be particularly relevant to returners:

1) Learning to recognise your inner critic

2) Unhooking from criticism

3) Communicating with more impact


Learning to recognise your inner critic

We all have an inner critic, the voice of self-doubt, of ‘not me’, of ‘I’m not good enough’. This voice can become stronger for people who have been out of the workplace for a long time. While it’s impossible to silence it, it’s relatively easy to learn to relate to it in a different way:

  • Don’t try to argue with your critic. You won’t win! The trick is to notice the voice, recognise it for what it is, and refuse to let it determine your choices. 
  • You could create a character for your inner critic to help you differentiate it from your true voice and/or try a visualisation exercise where you imagine turning down the volume on the critic’s voice whenever it pipes up. 
  • Remember that experiencing fear or doubt doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong track. In fact, our inner critic is never more vocal than when we’re stepping outside of our comfort zones, pushing ourselves, and on the verge of achieving something amazing.

Unhooking from criticism


Many women are relationship-oriented, which means that we work hard to preserve harmony and care about other people’s perspectives. While this is largely a positive trait, it can hold us back if it translates to a fear of disapproval. Bear these ideas in mind next time you find yourself overly worried about other people’s opinions:


  • A negative response doesn’t mean that you’ve done something wrong. Feedback is crucial: not because it tells you something about the value of your work, but because it tells you how it is likely to be received by the people you are hoping to reach. This also means that you don’t need to incorporate all feedback, but instead carefully select the parts that are strategically useful, and let the rest go, e.g. a former colleague’s opinion on your CV is more valuable than that of a friend in an unrelated field. 
  • Criticism most affects us when it reflects a negative belief we hold about ourselves. The rest bounces right off. Use painful criticism as a way of discovering, and addressing, those negative beliefs that might be holding you back in your decision to return to the workplace. 

Communicating with more impact

Do you ever feel the struggle between wanting to say something but holding back? Between sharing an idea and simultaneously diminishing it? Women are particularly affected by this, and are often guilty of dumbing down communication in order to be more likeable, at the expense of appearing competent.

Before hitting send on your next email to a potential or new employer:

  • Eliminate any undermining words and phrases (‘just’, ‘kind of’’). 
  • Remove any unnecessary apologies (‘Sorry if this is a silly question’). 
  • Take out any phrases that suggest that what you have to say isn’t worth much time/space (‘I thought I’d tell you a little bit about’, ‘just a minute of your time’). 
  • Replace questions such as ‘does that make sense?’, which imply you feel you’ve been incoherent, with phrases such as ‘I look forward to hearing your thoughts’. 
  • Delete the disclaimers (‘I’m no expert but’) and just say what you have to say. 
This doesn’t mean being aggressive in your communication, but rather making a conscious effort to express warmth - e.g. expressing a genuine interest in the other person - without relying on diminishing phrases.

Watch this space for further reading recommendations, and please do comment with any books you may have found useful in your own return to work journey!


Posted by Elaine

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Lowri's story - An alternative route back to work

Route back to teaching after a career break

"I wanted to share my story to show that, whilst the path to returning to work following a break can mean a more circuitous journey than might otherwise have been undertaken, the rewards of doing so can be great." Lowri

At the age of 26, I finally found what I wanted to do with my career when I enrolled on a part-time PGCE course at Goldsmith’s University to become a secondary school English teacher. I then promptly managed to get pregnant with my first child only two months into the course, throwing my plans into disarray. I was able to complete the first half of the course before my daughter was born and I returned to finish my second school placement and graduate when she was around one year old. However, I did not look for a job after graduation as I was unable to see how I would manage to juggle my first years in teaching with having a very young child.

Once my daughter had started attending nursery school, I made some tentative steps towards returning to teaching by joining a pre-school organisation running classes to teach children about the natural world. This made me re-assess my decision to work at secondary level and I was able to see that teaching younger children would be very rewarding and would fit in better with caring for my daughter. Once I had reached this decision, I began to apply for jobs in primary schools, but I often would not even get a response to my applications, presumably overlooked in favour of candidates with more experience; no gap between qualifying and starting work; and with a qualification that related specifically to primary, rather than secondary education. 

When a post became vacant at my daughter’s school, I applied and managed to get down to the final shortlist of candidates, but again lost out to someone with more relevant qualifications and more experience. Whilst I was buoyed by getting so far in the interview process, I also had to confront the fact that, without gaining additional experience in the primary sector, I was unlikely to be able to find a primary teaching job.

Fortunately, my daughter’s school were also advertising for another vacancy for the post of teaching assistant. Despite being over-qualified, I applied and was accepted and began a wonderful year of getting to understand the rhythms of the primary classroom and the various curricula for which the teacher is responsible, whilst not actually having to shoulder the responsibility for the teaching itself. When a teaching post became free the following year, I applied and became the teacher in the year group for which I had been TA the previous year. The year after that, I was able to make use of my English degree and secondary training to become Head of English and to move from teaching a broad curriculum to, once again, being a specialist English teacher, preparing children to sit for senior school entrance exams.

I wanted to share my story to show that, whilst the path to returning to work following a break can mean a more circuitous journey than might otherwise have been undertaken, the rewards of doing so can be great. I have been exceptionally lucky in being able to teach at the school where my daughter is a pupil, meaning that child care has not been problematic. Even so, I have found juggling having a young child with a full-time career challenging, especially during those times when I have been aware of prioritising the needs of my class above the needs of my own child as she spends yet another evening or weekend in work with me! However, whilst the hours are long and the pace can be relentless at times, working in a female-dominated, child-centred industry means that the needs of mothers are recognised and catered for more than perhaps they are in some other jobs. My job is stimulating and rewarding, giving me the opportunity to share my love and enthusiasm for my subject in the hope of inspiring the next generation.


Friday, 19 January 2018

Tackling Fears about Returning to Work after a Career Break

Women returning to work after a career break


We are witnessing a very real change in the employment landscape for women returning to work after a career break. Employers are coming up with innovative ideas to attract and retain women, and showing willingness to implement the changes needed to entice returners. All in all, there’s never been a better time to return to work, so what’s stopping more women from taking advantage of these opportunities?

Elaine Russell, who heads up Women Returners in Ireland, and Karin Lanigan, Manager of Career Development and Recruitment Services for Chartered Accountants Ireland, 
talked to The Irish Times Women in Business Podcast about the common fears and challenges faced by women who are considering a return to the workplace. Below we have pulled out some of the key points and you can also listen to the full podcast episode here.

I’ve been out of the workplace for too long
You mustn’t let the length of time you’ve been out of work stop you from going back. We have worked with returners who have been out for 15 years or more and have successfully returned to professional-level work through returner programmes or through their networks. Remember that the length of your break doesn’t change your strengths, which are an integral part of who you are, and doesn't wipe out the career experience you had beforehand.

Also, you don’t need to talk about the length of your career break when introducing yourself to prospective employers. Do reference it - don't apologise or defend it - however, focus predominantly on your previous experience and what you want to do going forward.

I’m too old
Diversity is a hot topic right now, with many companies actively looking at ways of attracting older people. We’re seeing more and more women in their 50’s returning to the workplace, where they’re appreciated for their maturity, experience, perspective and stability.

I can’t get to grips with new technology
Technology moves quickly and some returners fear they’ll never catch up. However, it’s worth remembering that this rapidity of change means that everyone has to work hard to keep abreast of developments, even those people who have never had a career break. If you take some time to get yourself up to speed, you may actually be in a stronger position than others who haven’t had that time. It’s also worth bearing in mind that technology in the workplace is not so different to the technology we use at home these days, and so you might well find that you’re not as out of the loop as you may think!

I’ve lost my confidence
We know that women typically have less confidence when valuing their professional worth. Combine this with an extended career break, and professional confidence can truly plummet. It’s important to work on building your self-confidence so that you’re ready to go back into work with a positive mindset. Reconnect with your professional self and remember the value of your past qualifications and experience, and also of the skills you have gained outside of the workplace.

I can’t compete with applicants who haven’t take time out
Companies are actively looking for people like you, i.e. people who have taken time out and are coming back to the workplace with renewed energy. Remember that your time off is an asset in itself, and that during that time you gained a breadth of perspective and 
many new skills which you can feel proud of.

I’m scared of networking
While we often think of ‘networking’ as a process of selling ourselves, which can be a scary prospect, it’s more about meeting and chatting to people, which is what we do all the time. Networking can be enjoyable! You're not asking for a job - you're letting people know  about your previous work experience and what you'd like to do now, to see if you can get advice and information. Remember that most people want to help and are generous with their time.

I don’t have recent experience
Experience doesn't have to be recent to give you credibility. Think back on the successes from your career: make a list and remind yourself of your achievements, perhaps even contacting former colleagues who can jog your memory. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, it still counts.

If you want even more inspiration, take a look at the returner success stories on our website, and read about how those women and men overcame their own personal challenges to successfully return to work after an extended break.

Read more on Tackling Return-to-Work Fears and Doubts here.

Posted by Elaine

Friday, 5 January 2018

10 Tips to Get Back to Work after a Career Break




"If you had spoken to me this time last year, I never would have believed I would be in the position I am in now." - Charlotte 

Whether you've been out of the workplace for one year or many years, the thought of restarting your career can be daunting. The following 10 tips are directly inspired by our library of success stories of people like you who have taken time out from work only to return stronger than ever. Read on and you never know where you might be this time next year.

1. Prepare to step out of your comfort zone
No-one can deny that rejoining the workplace after an extended leave is a scary prospect, but it's also an exciting one. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and you never know what might happen. What have you got to lose? 
Read Natalie's story

2. Shape the narrative of your career break
There are as many career break stories as there are returners, and you are the only person who can tell yours. Think about all of the skills you have built up in your time off work, and how they could benefit an employer. You don't need to make excuses for your career break or try to hide it; it could actually end up being your biggest asset! 
Read Fiona's story

3. Work out what YOU need
Take time to have a serious think about what you want from a job, and consider how much flexibility and support you would need. It’s important to have those conversations with potential employers upfront to avoid conflict and frustration further down the line. Don’t forget that you’re assessing companies for their suitability just as much as they’re assessing you. 
Read Clare's story

4. Develop a new specialism
It’s never too late to learn something new. Whether you want to update your existing knowledge or head off in a different direction, there are more study options now than ever, including short courses, distance learning and on-the-job training. It's worth taking the time to do your research, such as looking at job adverts to find out which qualifications potential employers are looking for. 
Read Carolyne's story

5. Reach out to your network
If you feel like you've got a gap in your knowledge, then another option is to find someone to bring you up to speed. You're bound to have a contact in your industry who could help, either from a previous job or your studies. Don't be afraid to reach out, e.g. on LinkedIn, and tell people what you need without worrying about what you can offer in return. These same networks can also point you in the direction of opportunities and could even open a door for you somewhere along the line. 
Read Carolien's story

6. Apply your skills in a new field
Taking time out from work can provide you with the distance you need to come back with a fresh pair of eyes and reassess your career plan. This could be the perfect opportunity for you to move across to a new area. Take some time to look around, talk to people, and see what's available. 
Read Maria's story

7. Find your tribe
A good support network can make all the difference in ensuring a smooth transition back into the workplace. You can set up your own group with people you already know, face-to-face or on WhatsApp, or join our Women Returners group (for network members) on LinkedInRead Clare's story

8. Consider coaching
If you're unsure about how to explain your career gap, worried about the practicalities of juggling family commitments with a new job, or suffering from a lack of confidence or direction, you could benefit from some career coaching. (find out about Women Returners coaching here). 
Read Kate's story

9. Look for volunteering roles in your sector
If you’ve been out of the workplace for a long period, a volunteering role in your sector will bolster your CV with recent and relevant experience, bring you up to speed with new developments and provide you with references and new contacts in your industry. Some roles provide training too. 
Read Antje's story

10. And finally, don't give up! 
It's all too easy to lose confidence and feel demoralised when looking for a job using traditional recruitment routes if you have a non-traditional career path, but with more and more companies in the UK coming around to the benefits of offering returner programmes
 and/or flexible working, there are new opportunities available all the time. And one of them may well have your name on it! Read Anna's story

If you have decided to make the move back into the workplace this year, or you're simply considering your options at the moment, make sure you've signed up to our network (sign up here) to get return-to-work advice, support, information and opportunities.


Posted by Elaine