Tuesday 25 March 2014

How organisations and individuals can ease the return-to-work 'sticky door'

Last week Nemat Shafik, the new Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, proposed that instead of breaking the 'glass ceiling' to reach senior levels, women need to push through the 'sticky door':

"women and girls should not look up to a glass ceiling but switch their gaze straight ahead to a “sticky door” which is blocking women from breaking through. It helps if there are allies on the other side pulling the handle too, ... But it is not everything – it’s mainly up to women to put their shoulders to the door and give it a hard shove." 
Interview of Nemat Shafik with Jane Merrick, The Independent, 19/3/14

This metaphor definitely feels more possible and a lot less painful than breaking a glass ceiling. I think it works just as well for professional women returning to work after a long career break as for women employees aiming for Board level ...
How organisations can ease the door
We need 'allies on the other side pulling the handle'. Our allies are organisations which recognise the value of this neglected pool of highly-qualified and experienced senior women and are prepared to facilitate their re-entry into the workforce in practical ways:
  • developing specific recruitment channels to get round the HR 'CV gap' screening block
  • offering returning professional internships (returnships) as a targeted route back.
  • providing coaching & mentoring for the transition period
  • keeping in touch with alumnae while they've left the workplace so they feel the door is still open!

How individuals can ease the door
And returning women need to give a 'hard shove'. No-one says that getting back into a satisfying and fulfilling role after a long time out is easy. But it is possible if:

Our role 

At Women Returners, we recognise the return-to-work door is still very sticky and we're aiming to add some oil to ease it up. We're encouraging you to keep shoving and organisations to pull harder!

(OK, I've taken the metaphor as far as I can now ...)
Posted by Julianne

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Setting your career compass: identifying your strengths

When you're planning to re-start your career after a break, one of the challenges is working out whether to go back to your old field or to try something different .. and if so, what? One of my clients told me she wanted to develop an internal compass to point her in the right direction towards a job she would enjoy and find fulfilling. 

How do we go about developing our own internal career compass? Thanks to recent positive psychology research, we're now much clearer on what makes us happy at work. Studies consistently find that one of the key aspects is using your strengths. A true strength is something that you are good at AND energised by - maybe developing new ideas, analysing, seeing the big picture or empathising with others [We can be good at things but find them draining; these aren't strengths in this sense]. 

Why focus your career choices on your strengths?

People who use their strengths more*: 

1. Are happier 
2. Are more confident 
3. Have higher levels of self-esteem 
4. Have higher levels of energy and vitality 
5. Experience less stress 
6. Are more resilient 
7. Are more likely to achieve their goals 
8. Perform better at work 
9. Are more engaged at work 
10. Are more effective at developing themselves and growing as individuals

*Source: Centre for Applied Positive Psychology.

Convinced? So, it's clearly a good start point to ask yourself which jobs would best play to your strengths. However first you need to work out what your strengths are ...

Identifying your strengths

I've found that most people can give a long list of their weaknesses, but few can describe their strengths in detail, and even fewer can pinpoint what strengths differentiate them from the next person. Often we don't value our natural strengths: if you naturally get on with most people, you may assume that it's nothing special and not realise that building relationships is a core strength for you. 

Ways to build up your personal strengths list

1. Use an online strengths assessment: Strengthsfinder 2.0 is a good choice & one of the easiest to interpret yourself 
2. For another perspective, get strengths feedback from your friends & family: ask them what they think you're good at and to give you specific examples so you don't just think they're 'being nice' (& resist the temptation to ask them for your weaknesses too!)
3. Keep a note over the next few weeks of times when you are engaged in an activity and feel highly energised. Think about whether you are using one or more of your strengths at these moments. It can be helpful to talk this through with a friend who can help you to 'strengths-spot'.

Once you've better understood your strengths & thought about where you can best use them, you're on the way to setting your career compass. We'll talk more about other aspects to consider (such as values and interests) in future posts.

Further reading
For more tips and advice on career decision-making see: using your instincts, too few choices and too many choices.

Posted by Julianne 

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Are you trying to be a work-home Superhero?

Do you feel you have to do everything for your family and find it impossible to let go of even the smallest detail?   Do you tidy your house before your cleaner comes or run to school with a child's forgotten homework?  Do you volunteer for lots of local committees and take on more than your share of work?  If so, you are probably feeling taken for granted and resentful of others who aren't doing their bit.  And at the same time, you can't see how you could possibly return to work when nobody else can do what you do!  

If this sounds familiar to you, you are probably trying to be a superhero.  It is also likely that you behaved like this at work, before your career break, so it is even harder to work out how you could combine work with all your more recent non-work responsibilities.

What is behind being a superhero?

This superhero behaviour is common enough for psychologists to have recognised and researched it.  It is often referred to as pleaser behaviour as it arises from a need to gain approval from others (work colleagues, family, children).  To gain approval, the pleaser will do whatever is asked of them, hates to say no and will always say that they are 'coping' no matter what is going on.  The downside of the behaviour is that the pleaser doesn't balance what they are doing for others with their own needs and the lack of balance builds resentment.

How can you get back to work without being a superhero?

  1. As mentioned in previous posts on unhelpful thought patterns, becoming aware of your pattern is the first step, so try to catch yourself when you're about to put your hand up for a project or about to save your children from learning by their own mistakes
  2. Work out which of the non-work tasks you do that others could do instead. And decide which tasks don't really need doing and just won't be done when you go back to work 
  3. Accept practical or emotional support.  Asking for help is not a weakness, we all need it.
  4. Get some practice with saying 'no' and learn to handle any unpleasant feelings and fears this brings up in you.  You might discover it is easier than you expected!
  5. Take care of yourself: build some activities into your schedule that are things you enjoy doing.  Read our post about guilt if you find this idea difficult
  6. Remember that you will be a more effective worker and more fulfilled parent if you balance what you are doing for others with taking care of your own needs too

Posted by Katerina

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Why work needs to be energising as well as family-friendly: Nicola's story

We always advise women returners to target roles that will be energising and motivating for them and not to solely focus on finding a job that is part-time and flexible. If you find your 'family-friendly' work boring then you are unlikely to be happy with your work-life balance. Nicola's story illustrates this perfectly ...

Nicola's story: Back to insurance (via nursery teaching)

Before I had children I worked in insurance broking and risk management. When I had my first daughter I went back to work 4 days a week but when I had my second daughter I didn’t want to delegate to a nanny anymore and decided to become a full-time mum. By the time my youngest was 2½ and at nursery I needed something to fill my days to stop getting frustrated. So I took a job as a nursery assistant teacher and worked there for 5 mornings a week term-time for 5 years. I enjoyed meeting new people but there was no mental challenge. The death of a close relative led me to reassess my life and I realized I was drifting. I considered training to be a schoolteacher but didn’t have much enthusiasm for it. I kicked my heels for a while and then contacted my old boss who I had kept in touch with over the 10 years since I left insurance. I asked him to let me know if he heard of any job, provided it was flexible. I also told all my friends and old work contacts that I was looking.
By pure chance one of my husband’s friends was having lunch with another mutual friend and mentioned that I wanted to get back into insurance. This friend worked for a risk management consultancy which was recruiting and approached me about a role there. I asked for 3 days a week, flexible according to demand but not Fridays. This was agreed because I was clear about what I wanted and what could work for the business.
I now absolutely love my life – it was definitely the right decision to go back. Even though I am working longer hours, my life feels more my own and I have got back my self-respect. I thought I’d be exhausted but in fact I have more energy than when I was working a few hours a day in the nursery. I’d rather be busy than bored!

For other inspiring return-to-work stories see www.womenreturners.com/success

Posted by Julianne