Tuesday 22 October 2013

How to creatively craft your next role

Are you struggling to work out what role you can return to?  You might think you have few choices or are attracted by many possibilities.  One way to look at this question is to think afresh about the kind of role you would like to create for yourself if you were free to do so.

Amanda*, formerly a Board director of a PR company, consulted me about her return to work after a 10 year career break during which she’d carried out some individual PR projects.  She was uncertain as to what to do next: although she enjoyed some aspects of her previous role, there were others that didn’t interest her at all anymore.  During our work together, Amanda identified the specific elements of her former role that still appealed (qualitative research and guiding guests around exhibitions and historic places) and set about researching how to pursue her career in each of these fields.

Rosie* had taken a six year break from a City law firm.  While she loved working in the law and felt strong loyalty to her former employer, she knew that the demands of returning to the partnership track were not right for her.  At the same time, Rosie knew that she had lots to offer her firm: she understood the pressures on trainee and newly qualified solicitors as well as the business needs of the organisation.  She believed that she could help her firm by providing specific support to the lawyers as they set about building their own practices ... and the HR Director agreed with her!  The firm funded Rosie to gain a coaching qualification and she has continued to develop and evolve her internal career management role as the needs of the firm have changed.

Both of these are examples of women who have designed a role which stimulates them, builds on their skills and expertise as well as taking them in a new direction.  While Amanda is crafting a role from elements of her former career, Rosie has been able to create a role which was new both for her and for her employer.

If you’d like to try this approach, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Which elements of my previous roles did I most enjoy and excel at?
  • Can these elements exist as roles on their own or as key aspects of other roles? Did I notice any gaps at a previous employer which I would like to fill?

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Where are the role models of successful women returners?

"Is it really possible to get back into work after I've been out so long? I don't know anyone who's done it apart from a few friends who have retrained as teachers."

Janice's comment echoes the feeling of many women I talk to who are thinking about going back after a long career break. We look around and the world seems to divide between friends and colleagues who have never taken a long break and those who are on a career break and are not showing much inclination to return to the workplace. "Do you know of any finance directors (lawyers/marketing managers/...) who have successfully returned to work after many years out?" is a question we're often asked. If you don't know any examples of women similar to yourself who have made the transition back to fulfilling work, you can start to question if it is possible.

Why don't I know more role models of successful returners?

Partly it's a question of timing. Before the 1980's there just weren't that many professional women (eg. in 1971 4% of UK lawyers were female; in 2009 it was 43%*). The 1970's 'career women' were less likely to give up their hard-won professions to care for their children or elderly parents. It was the highly-qualified women who began their working lives in the more equal 1980's, or later, who felt confident enough in the 1990's and 2000's to take extended career breaks. So it was only in the mid 2000's that the phenomenon of professional women returners started to be noticed in the US**. As we are still in the early days of finding routes back in to the workplace, it is not surprising that examples of successful returners can seem few and far between. This doesn't mean you can't find them, it just means you have to look a bit harder.

Why is it important for us to have role models? (the psychology bit)

According to psychologist Albert Bandura's social cognitive theory, having role models has a major effect on our belief in our ability to succeed in a certain situation (our 'self-efficacy'). If we see people similar to ourselves succeeding in what we want to do, then we are more likely to believe we have the capabilities to do this too and to cope with inevitable setbacks. If we have a weak sense of self-efficacy we quickly lose confidence in our abilities, become more negative and are more likely to give up on our goals. 

Where can I find more role models?
  1. Ask your friends/colleagues if they know anyone who has returned to work after a long break and who seems to be happy and fulfilled with their work-life. 
  2. Check your LinkedIn contacts: some people list 'career break' as a role. 
  3. I think that the many success stories on the US iRelaunch website are one of the best sources of 'Look it can be done' inspiration. 
  4. As Katerina & I thought it would be great to have a bank of UK successes, we are starting to collect UK returner stories which we will include on our womenreturners.com website. 
Do you know any women professionals who have successfully returned to work ... or are you a possible role model yourself? If so do get in touch. We're not just looking for the high-flying returners, more a range of women who are back at work and happy with the work-family choices they have made.

* Alison Wolf, The XX Factor, 2013 ** Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Off-Ramps & On-Ramps, 2007

Posted by Julianne

Thursday 10 October 2013

Are you getting enough support with your return to work?

I recently delivered my eldest child to university and have experienced my first taste of the empty nest.  During the long drive there and back, I was thinking over my child’s 18 years and the many transitions we have both gone through.  Two of those are relevant here: becoming a mother for the first time and returning to work after an eight year break.  I noticed how differently I prepared for and experienced these two events.

First-time mother
As I expect is true for many of you, the months before my child was born were filled with hours of preparation and planning for both me and sometimes my husband.  We read books and magazines, joined ante-natal classes and the NCT, attended yoga sessions and engaged a team of experts to support us: GP, midwife and even a water-birth guru!  And we were lucky enough to have grandparents and friends to advise and guide us.  Is any of this sounding familiar?

The result was we felt as informed and confident as we could be about the transition to this new phase of our lives.

Return-to-work mother
The contrast with my return to work could hardly be greater.  My husband was barely available because of the demands of his career (and, to be fair, I probably didn't ask for enough).  There were few books, classes, workshops or experts to consult.  The grandparents were gone and friends had either not stopped working or weren't ready to think about returning.  It is not really surprising that I found my return to work so lonely and at times felt it was all too difficult.

I wonder if this experience too strikes a chord as you think about your own return.  I think that the lessons are clear.  Returning to work after a career break requires preparation, all-round support and guidance in the same way as becoming a mother did. You need both practical and emotional support through the transition and any ambivalence you are feeling.  We are making it really hard on ourselves if we think we can (or should) do it alone.

These days there are a few more sources for women returners to turn to, (including this blog).  We've listed all that we've found on our website and would love to hear where else you have found inspiration and support.

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Are 'shoulds' ruling your return-to-work decisions?

I co-ran a workshop for INSEAD alumni last week on getting past the internal barriers that can keep us stuck when we want to make a career change: our fears, beliefs and 'shoulds'. We've talked previously in this blog about fear of being selfish, fear of failure, and guilt. And we've touched on the limiting beliefs that can unconsciously hold us back, such as "there aren't any good part time jobs out there" or "I'm too old to go into something different". If you're feeling stuck, there may be another mental trap you have set up for yourself without realising it - your 'shoulds'. Do you recognise any of these ...?

"I should look for a safe and secure job"
"I should stick with what I'm good at"
"I should stay at home while my children are young"
"I should always be available for my family"
"I shouldn't waste my qualifications"
"I shouldn't take a low-paying job" 

When we say 'I should' we don't always mean "I want to" - we may just feel a pressure to behave in a certain way. It helps to understand the psychological basis for this. As we go through life, we develop certain values based on repeated messages we've received from other important people in our lives*. Often it's from our parents, sometimes it's our teachers, or it may be friends, or respected colleagues. If our father tells us enough times that we 'shouldn't waste our qualifications', this can become an implicit rule that we live our lives by without questioning whether it is a choice that we ourselves want to make. These inner 'rules' can unconsciously keep you unhappily at home (or drive you reluctantly back to work) or stop you from changing to a more satisfying job when you do return to work.

Our values can be influenced by where we are living or the society we have grown up in. One of my clients, Isabelle, a French accountant, was full of guilt for taking a career break. Isabelle's mother had been a 'career woman' who had told her that "women should earn their own money" and all her equally well-educated friends in Paris were working mothers and could not understand why she had not returned to work. She felt a push to return to a prestigious job even though she was concerned about not having enough time for her family: "I should be using my education" was how she put it. Another client from Germany faced a different set of cultural norms; Karin wanted to return to work but felt pressured into staying at home because it was the expectation in her town that mothers of primary-age children did not work. As she explained, "I feel it should be enough for me to be concentrating on raising my children"

It's worth listening to what you're telling yourself or other people when you're debating returning to work. We're often not aware of the difference between our 'shoulds' and our 'wants". Next time you find yourself saying "I should" try changing it to 'I want to' or 'I choose to" and see if it is still true. If you realise that this is not your choice, ask yourself if this is someone else's value that you're ready to let go of. Of course it's not always that simple to get rid of a long-held belief, but maybe it will start to free you up to see a broader range of options.

* Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic psychology, described back in the 1960s how we 'introject' other influential people's values and suggested that we need to 'shed the shoulds and oughts' to develop our personal value system.

Posted by Julianne