Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Katherine’s story: Forging a new career after a 15-year break

Returning to work after a 15-year career break
Credit: Ray Wells, The Sunday Times
"My advice would be: just go for whatever you want to do. However unlikely or impossible it might seem, you never know what may happen." Katherine, 15-year career break

I’d love to tell you I had a glittering career before my three boys came along. But I can’t, because I was an actor. Given that only 3 out of every hundred actors are in paid acting work at any time, this meant I did lots of promotion work to pay the bills, along with some actual acting.

Anyway, it became very clear when I started having babies that this was not a ‘career’ which was easy to combine with children. I simply didn’t earn enough to cover the childcare, and acting hours and auditions are not regular and so are difficult to plan for.

In any case, I wanted to look after my boys myself. Actors are after all people who are paid to play for a living, so I was in my element on the floor engineering elaborate train networks or chasing them around the house pretending to be a monster. As they got bigger, I became heavily involved with their schools, and am currently a governor at both primary and secondary level.

But increasingly I yearned for the career I’d never had. I’d studied English Literature at university and had been torn between acting and journalism: both hideously competitive professions. At 48, and having been home for 15 years, I thought I had no realistic chance of becoming a journalist.

And then I saw a tweet from The Spectator magazine. They were looking for (paid) interns and didn’t want CVs; just to see what you could actually do. I knew this was my chance because they wouldn’t know my age, or that I’d been at home for years. I wrote about politics and economics and sent it off with a covering letter saying I was ‘different’ and ‘older’.

Getting the internship has transformed my life. The Spectator published an article I wrote about being an older intern and it became their 12th most read piece of last year. The Sunday Times did a feature on me, I led the Evening Standard Diary (above George Clooney!) and was back and forth to the BBC, doing interviews for Radio 4’s The World Tonight, 5Live’s Pienaar’s Politics, World Service Weekend and then BBC Breakfast with Dan and Louise. The whole experience was wonderful, scary and surreal.

I hadn’t realised that starting again was that unusual and certainly hadn’t expected the commotion I caused. But why ever not start over? Given we will soon be working into our seventies I could have a thirty-year career. I couldn’t care less that being an intern means you are ‘starting at the bottom’ (though I suspect that interning at The Spectator is more like starting at the bottom of the top!).

The Spectator have given me lots of help and support, and I absolutely loved working there. I didn’t feel odd being older, and everyone was lovely to me. I’ve been back there since to help with the Christmas rush, and they’ve now published five articles I’ve written. I also did an internship in News at The Sunday Times. Again, everyone I met was positive, encouraging and helpful. I had four by-lines in two weeks.

So now I am making my way as a freelance journalist, often writing at home, and getting experience working at different organisations. For now, this suits me – my family are still adjusting to my working and my eldest son is about to take his GCSEs. But after that I want to work full-time as a journalist, going into an office and being out and about meeting people.

I’ve joined a fantastic organisation called Women in Journalism and have been accepted onto their mentoring scheme. Other women in the industry are an invaluable support network, and I’ve already met several fabulous and inspiring female journalists.

If someone had told me a year ago that I’d be published in The Spectator and The Sunday Times, and that Kate Adie would introduce me on Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent, I would not have believed them. I can barely believe it now. So, my advice would be: just go for whatever you want to do. However unlikely or impossible it might seem, you never know what may happen.

Read Katherine's article about being an older intern in The Spectator here.

If you would like support with your own return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Returner Programme Guidance - Benefits for Employers & Returners

Now is the perfect time to return to work after a career break!

8th April is International Women’s Day, with a theme this year of #PressforProgress. At Women Returners, we continue to #PressforProgress in supporting women back into suitable roles in the workplace after an extended career break. Alongside the free support we give to returners through our Network, our main way of achieving our objectives is through our efforts to make 'returnships' and other returner programmes a normal part of annual recruitment across sectors and across the UK.

Rise of Returner Programmes 

Since we first started promoting the returnship concept in the UK in 2014, the number of returner programmes has increased year on year, to over 40 in 2017, helping hundreds of women to pick up their careers. Recognising and supporting the concept, the UK government on IWD last year committed £5M to support returnships and now have a team working on returner initiatives in the Government Equalities Office (GEO). The Scottish Government has also got behind returnships, providing funding for our current cross-company programme in Scotland.

Returner Programmes: Best Practice Guidelines for Employers

The "Returner Programmes: Best Practice Guidelines for Employers" was launched this week by GEO. We're proud to have co-written this guidance with our friends at Timewise, as we're keen to ensure that returner programmes work well for both organisation and returners. Employers can now get free practical advice and information on how to engage and support this fantastic talent pool. 

We had the opportunity to highlight the benefits to employers of returner programmes and the Guidance in this week's GEO blog: Why Creating Returner Programmes Makes Business Sense

Benefits for Returners

If you're returning to work, here's why the Guidelines are great news for you too:

1. New knowledge 
You can gain a clear understanding of what a returner programme entails, and what companies are aiming towards, so you can be more informed and proactive during the application process and once you are accepted on to a programme. You can also find a clear business case for hiring returners and could use this information to reach out to companies who do not yet offer programmes.

2. More opportunities
The guidelines offer a toolkit for companies, providing practical advice for every stage of designing and running a returnship or supported hiring programme, together with the business case to obtain senior buy-in. With this free help so readily available, it’s now easier than ever for companies of all sizes to set up returner programmes.

·      3. Fairer hiring processes & pay
The report also sets out to create more understanding around the needs of returners, your varying reasons for taking time out, and the support you may require in returning to the workplace. We hope this will lead to improvements in recruitment and induction processes and make it easier for you to integrate into your new role. There is also a clear recommendation for returners to be paid at a competitive level which recognises your skills and experience and the nature of the work you are doing.

·      4. Promotion of talent
By encouraging employers to make hiring great talent their key message, rather than promoting returner programmes as part of a corporate social responsibility agenda, the guidance paves the way for you to be truly valued and respected in your new role.

Upcoming Guidance for Returners

More good news to come ... We are currently writing a follow-on guide for returners, to give you a step-by-step roadmap back to work. Once again we're partnering with GEO and Timewise on this toolkit, to be published later this year.

With all of this progress, we truly believe that there has never been a better time for women on a career break to return to the workplace! So what are you waiting for? Join our free Returners Professional Network to stay informed of the latest opportunities, events and resources for returners.

Posted by Julianne and Elaine

Friday, 2 March 2018

Sarah-Jane's story: Returning to financial services after a 15-year break

Returning to work after 15-year career break

"My advice for anyone trying to get back to work is, first and foremost, believe it is possible!Sarah-Jane, 15-year career break

Before my career break, I was a portfolio manager, a Director of Fixed Income at Merrill Lynch Investment Managers, for 17 years. In addition to managing global fixed income portfolios, I was responsible for front office IT development (electronic reporting, trade order management and compliance monitoring) and new product development, which included launching a High Yield CBO. I took a voluntary redundancy package in 2002. During my career break, I focussed on my family as well as training as a homoeopath, establishing a small practice. I also worked for a small printing firm, concentrating on contract management and corporate governance. So I was definitely not putting my feet up!

Changing family circumstances in 2017 provided the impetus for me to re-establish my career in asset management. This was a tough thing to do, so I contacted my old boss to ask for advice and guidance and he suggested investigating women returner programmes. Finding the Women Returners website was the turning point. It provided me with information about current programmes as well as being a valuable resource and support. I didn’t have a clear idea about the role I was looking for, because I didn’t know how to value my previous experience in the context of such a long absence from the workplace. Fortunately, potential employers did. The real revelation came when I was interviewed for a role as a Fixed Income Portfolio Manager on the Fidelity New Horizons returnship programme - my previous work experience was still very relevant!

When I approached Fidelity International, I was initially interviewed for a role in Fixed Income before being asked to interview with Multi Asset. Multi Asset offered me an extraordinary opportunity: to become a Portfolio Manager in a dynamic, growing part of the business and learn new skills in an exciting area of asset management. They offered me a position that would stretch and challenge me - an opportunity that would have been exciting 15 years ago - and one that I grasped with both hands. There was a real job opportunity behind the 20-week contract and a chance to carve out a new career. I'm pleased to say that I now have a permanent role with Fidelity.

It is difficult to exaggerate the magnitude of returning to the workplace after such an extended period away. There were moments when it was completely overwhelming. However, the Multi Asset team was very welcoming. Whilst I was very much in at the deep end from the start, there was plenty of help and people willing to answer my questions. I only had to ask and support was there. This remains - I still ask questions and I still receive fulsome answers.

Fidelity has given me the time I needed to find my feet. As well as receiving help from my colleagues within Multi Asset, there has been good support more generally. I needed to sit the IMC exams and was given the resources and time necessary to do this. Other returners have helped by sharing their experiences, but probably the greatest support was the individual coaching received from Women Returners. This was superb. Anna, my coach, ensured that I managed my work/life balance and reassured me that the gamut of emotions I was experiencing was normal and to be expected. She had the enviable ability of being able to listen to my thoughts, order them and come up with a strategy. Whatever topic I chose to cover, I received measured advice and would leave each session with a list of steps to follow. Anna ensured that I could concentrate on my strengths and what I brought to the role. It is all too easy to focus on what you perceive as your weaknesses.

I am so glad that I made the giant leap back into the workplace. It has been challenging but stimulating and enjoyable. There is a renewed spring in my step and I am determined to make the most of every opportunity presented to me. My advice for anyone trying to get back to work is, first and foremost, believe it is possible! Be organised, do your research, brush up on skills that will be needed once you are working. Contact old colleagues and ask for advice - they will be happy to give it. Receiving rejections is hard, but learn from each interview and treat each setback as a chance to consolidate and assess your next move. It may take time to find the right role in the right company but it will have been worth the effort when you do.

If you would like support with your own return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Note: Fidelity's latest returnship is now open for applications: Fidelity New Horizons Global Platform & Advisory

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