Thursday, 30 October 2014

Return-to-work advice for Allison Pearson's Kate Reddy


This month saw the return of Kate Reddy, Allison Pearson's fictional working mother who started in a Telegraph column in the 1990s and ended up in the best-selling novel and Hollywood film  "I Don't Know How She Does It". Many of us remember the pangs of recognition in the shop-bought cakes 'distressed' in the middle of the night before a school cake sale, and Kate's ultimate decision to leave her over-demanding City job to get more balance in her life.

Thirteen years later, Kate is back every Friday in the Daily Telegraph as Sandwich Woman: 49-and-a-half with two teenage children, a husband with a mid-life crisis retraining as a counsellor and frail elderly parents. And she's about to fly the flag for women returners, returning to full-time work after a six year career break. At least we hope for a (fictional) role model, but in the first few weeks Allison Pearson has focused on the dispiriting side of returning to work, as Kate says "Amazing how fast all the confidence you built up over a career ebbs away". So far our heroine has been patronised by a dismissive headhunter when she targets a non-exec role, wondered whether anyone will want to employ her and she's decided to lie about her age & her recent experience ...

Allison Pearson says she is bringing Kate back to show other 'sandwich women' that they are not alone in their struggles. So we decided that it's time to get Kate on track for her return to work with some words of motivation and advice:

1. Your timing is great. Businesses are waking up to the fact that returners are a high-calibre talent pool and are actively targeting them. The 2014 innovation of 'returnship' programmes is aimed at women like you (see here for more details) and many are in City firms. And Goldman Sachs stated this month in the FT that they are actively targeting their alumnae for senior roles.

2. After a long break you are not a 'square peg fitting into a square hole' so avoid most headhunters and recruitment agencies. The exception is firms who specialise in flexible working &/or women returners (try Sapphire Partners if you're looking for a non-exec role).

3. Don't lie on your CV! You don't need to reveal your age as CVs no longer include date of birth (or gender & marital status). And miss out your decades-old school qualifications. Include voluntary or paid work and studies during your break experience where they (honestly!) used or developed your professional skills. 

4. Focus on building your network of contacts. You've only been away for 6 years and your old colleagues will remember you as a highly talented senior manager. Set up a (brief) LinkedIn profile, connect with ex-colleagues and get into the City to meet them for coffee. Look for university and organisational alumni groups too. Tell everyone you know that you want to get back to a corporate role - you never know who might be able to help.

5. Above all don't undervalue yourself. Focus on the benefits your age can bring to an employer: maturity, stability and a huge amount of training and experience which will enable you to get back up to speed very quickly once you've got your foot back in the door. We have many success stories of women who have got back into satisfying roles & hope that your imminent successful return will inspire many more!

Update 31/10/14: Great to see Kate is now taking the contacts route to finding a new job!

Posted by Julianne

Thursday, 23 October 2014

How to make time for your return to work job search

Two recent conversations with returners have reminded me how difficult it can be for women to focus on their return to work activity: there always seems to be something more important or time-consuming for them to do.

As former professionals used to managing busy careers, women on career break often fill their lives with activities that keep them busy, engaged and feeling productive. As well as looking after family and home, they frequently take on voluntary roles or small paid projects, develop new hobbies and simply 'help others out'.  

The difficulty comes when trying to return to work: how do you fit a job search into an already busy life? The truth is that finding a new role, especially when you have left the workforce, is a job in itself.  Your return to work will only happen with dedicated time, energy and commitment.

Carving out this space is hard for returners for a number of reasons:

  • you might not be sure whether you are ready to return, so you don't give it your attention to avoid having to make a decision
  • you don't know how to get started on your return to work, so you procrastinate
  • you've made some small efforts and have been deterred by the response (or lack of) you've received 
  • it's the wrong time of year (eg pre-Christmas/Easter/summer holiday)
  • it feels selfish to be focusing on yourself after so many years of putting others first
  • you don't know which of the other activities to cut out, in order to make space for your return to work plans
Here are some ideas on how you can start to create time for yourself, so you can address some of these barriers, both practical and psychological: 
  • start small - make a date with yourself!  It could be sitting in a coffee shop for half an hour after school drop off, on your own with the purpose of doing your own thinking and planning. If you can do this once, you can start to make it a regular habit and then expand the time you devote to it
  • enlist a buddy - this could either be someone in the same position as you with whom you can meet regularly and share experiences and ideas. Or it could be someone who is simply there to support, encourage and celebrate with you and keep you on track
  • give your search a project name - to give it focus and make it more like a work project
  • sign up for a relevant course - this will enable to you dedicate time to your new direction, introduce you to others who might be helpful to you and signify that you are taking positive steps for yourself
  • address your reluctance to put yourself first - by trying it out! This post on Banning Selfish may be useful
  • delegate - perhaps you don't have to keep doing all the things you currently do whether at home or elsewhere
  • work with a coach - this will commit you to spending time (and money) on your return to work in a structured way and get you into the habit of giving time to this activity.  
Remember that no-one else can do the work required for you, so your return to work will only happen if you give it - and yourself - the time and attention you deserve.

Other useful posts and links:

Posted by Katerina


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Improve your Return-to-Work Confidence



The Problem with Confidence
It's often reported that women's self-confidence plummets during a career break. A recent study* found that women on maternity leave start to lose confidence in their ability to return to work only 11 months after giving birth.

The problem with labelling return-to-work doubts as a 'confidence issue' is that we use the same explanation for a wide range of setbacks that women face in the workplace: from presentation nerves to not putting ourselves forward for a promotion or (as Sheryl Sandberg would say) 'not taking a seat at the table'. It's become too much of a general catch-all.

I would suggest that we need a different term to describe the (often extreme) self-doubt that women can experience when they consider returning to the workplace after a long time out. This is the doubt that stops you even believing that it's possible to get back into a satisfying role .. the doubt that made a highly talented MBA with 15 years' experience say to me after her 6 year break "I'm a write-off - no-one will want to hire me now". 

Self-Efficacy
From a psychology perspective, what you're experiencing in this situation is better termed "low self-efficacy". The psychologist Albert Bandura described self-efficacy as a person's belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. If you have low self-efficacy about getting back to work, then you feel less motivated and behave in negative ways that make you less likely to achieve your goal; you see barriers as insurmountable blocks rather than challenges to overcome, you lose focus and interest more quickly, and you struggle to pick yourself up again when you hit an inevitable setback. 

Building Self-Efficacy
The encouraging thing about self-efficacy is that it's not fixed - there are specific ways to boost it. Bandura identified four key sources of self-efficacy, three of which are within your control and the other you can influence:

1. Mastery. Performing a task successfully through hard work and effort improves self-efficacy. If you haven't worked for many years, you will feel 'rusty'. Create opportunities to do work-related tasks that feel daunting to you, but in a low risk environment, such as offering to chair a volunteers' meeting or taking a training course which involves group & presentation work. 

2. Social Modelling. Seeing other people being successful raises our belief that we can do it too. We need role models! That's why we're collecting success stories of women who have successfully relaunched their careers. Read our stories & actively seek out women who have already gone down the road you want to take.

3. Social Persuasion. Getting encouragement from others helps us to overcome self-doubt. Spend more time with people who will encourage you and give you a boost, and less with the downbeat 'energy vampires' in your life! Remember that the people you are closest to may be discouraging about your return to work because they are worried about the impact it will have on their lives.

4. Psychological Responses. Better managing your stress levels and emotions can improve your confidence. Work out what helps you to feel calmer under stress - maybe having time to prepare, going for a run, or just taking a few deep breaths - and use these techniques consciously next time you're under pressure. Think about taking a yoga or mindfulness course if you find it difficult to manage your stress levels and emotions. 

And you can use this framework to build your self-efficacy once you're back at work too!


Related Posts

* AAT, 2013



Posted by Julianne


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Preparing for your first months back at work

You’ve been offered a new role or returnship, you’ve updated your wardrobe and sorted out your household – but you might still be full of uncertainties and doubts about how you will actually perform and be effective. 

With a returnship you have 10-12 weeks to demonstrate your value to your potential future employer. With a permanent role, you feel the pressure to establish yourself quickly as a contributor. At the same time, it is essential that you return to work with realistic ideas about what you can expect to achieve in your first weeks and months. By having clear goals you will find it easier to focus your energy on those aspects of your working life which will have the biggest positive impact for you and your employer. The biggest pitfalls for returners occur when they become caught up in the need to prove themselves in every way (to their employer or colleagues) or to please everyone (at home and at work) which can quickly lead to exhaustion and resentment. A realistic assessment of what is possible for you to achieve can help to minimise the risk of falling into these traps. 

We recommend you concentrate your preparation in the following areas:
  • Achievement (your tangible measurable impact)
  • Relationships (identifying key people and starting to build connections with them)
  • Brand (what values do you want to be known for)
  • Ways of working (establishing your boundaries)

Achievement

Think about the tangible and measurable business requirements that you will be working on in your first three months. Hopefully through the interview process you should have developed an idea of what the organisation expects of you. You will need to clarify these expectations and to shape them into specific and tangible results. This will demonstrate your competence to your colleagues and in doing so will help you to build your confidence and credibility in your role.

Very early on, you will need to check your view of what goals are important with your manager’s expectations, to ensure that you are aligned with each other. You will also want to build into your goals, opportunities for quick results that will enhance your reputation as someone who delivers.

Relationships

As a returner, you won’t necessarily have as much time for social interaction with your colleagues as you might wish, so it is important to identify those people with whom it is essential to build rapport and concentrate your time and energy on these relationships. 

If you are new to the organisation and don't have an established network, you may need some guidance from your line manager on the key people for you to meet and connect with early on.

You will need to be smarter about how you start to build these relationships too, as you might not feel able to go out for drinks after work or for longer lunch breaks. Being new, or recently returned, gives you a perfect excuse to introduce yourself to people and to ask for their advice and their views on your priorities (even if you don’t agree with them!). And do try to organise your home-life so that you make it to a few social events, as this is a great opportunity to get to know your colleagues on a more personal level.

Brand

Having a break from the workplace can give you the space to reflect on your strengths, values and priorities and you can return to work feeling much clearer about how you wish to be known in the workplace.

With clarity on your strengths and values you can work out how to bring these to life in your new role.  How can you demonstrate your 'personal brand' as you work towards achieving the goals you have set and start building new relationships?  What will your priorities be?  And just as importantly, what will you let go of?

Ways of Working

Starting a new role is an ideal time to establish sustainable working patterns.  By thinking through in advance how you wish to work you can protect yourself from being drawn into the need to prove yourself or to please everyone. 

Ways of working includes considering whether you will work beyond the standard hours, either at home or in the office and if so, how often.  And if you are working flexibly, how far does that flexibility extend?  How prepared are you to keep in touch (by email or phone) or attend meetings outside your agreed work time?  

Everyone will have a different view of their personal boundaries, but it is important to define what yours are and communicate them clearly.  At the same time, your employer is likely to meet your willingness to be flexible with a similar response.

Last thoughts

Finally, the key to making your return to work a success for you, your employer and your family is to make sure that you keep time for yourself to recharge your batteries. Not only will you feel better for it, but you will have more energy for your work and your family if you can allow yourself the time that you need.

If you would like some help with thinking through your return to work approach, Women Returners is now offering a Preparing for your Return coaching package which will enable you to clarify your goals and create a plan of action.

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The value of older women to the workforce

Many returners believe that being older makes them less appealing to employers.  Geraldine Bedell, former editor of Gransnet, co-founder of The Family Innovation zone and author of Mothers of Innovation outlines government data and other research which firmly rebuts this view and provides encouragement and insight for returners.

Lives are getting longer: we all know that. What is less often acknowledged is that the extra years haven’t all been tacked on at the end. They've gone into the middle. Many of us are contemplating lives that look vastly different from those of our mothers, let alone our grandmothers; anticipating a phase of life after child rearing that is healthy, mentally competent, energetic and prolonged.

Women returners understand this from the inside: we know we have skills, energy, judgement and competence that make us useful to the world of employment. It’s fair to say, though, that employers have taken a long time to realise this. Even as changing demographics open up possibilities for different life stages, we still assume that key career progress has to be made at the very time we are most preoccupied with small children.

Things are changing. Clever businesses have long understood that diversity is the key to successful teams. It may have taken them a while to realise that diversity includes age but they are doing so now, and for good business reasons: it has been estimated that there will be 13.5m job vacancies in the UK in the next 10 years but only 7m young people will be leaving school and college.

Beyond the need to fill desks, many of the myths about older workers are now known to be unfounded. A recent guide from the Department of Work and Pensions* insists that older workers:

·         are just as productive as younger workers
·         are just as successful in training and learning new skills
·         take less short-term time off sick
·         offset any loss of speed – with technology, for example – with better judgement
·         are just as likely to commit to an employer.

It’s understandable that women who have been on a career break assume that technology and ways of doing things have moved on. That may be true – but management of technology and of colleagues is a skill, and the point about skills is that they can be learnt, often remarkably quickly. There is no reason to suppose a woman returner is going to be much slower picking up ways of doing things than someone transferring from another company.  

What older women do bring – as enlightened employers are increasingly acknowledging – is a lifetime of skills, experience and wisdom. Increasingly, brain research is showing that what we have traditionally called wisdom is a demonstrable function of the older brain. As Barbara Strauch observes in her book The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain, we have ‘an increased capacity, as we age, to recognise patterns and anticipate situations, to predict a likely future, and to act appropriately.’

The DWP* also reports that organisations with an intergenerational workforce find that there are benefits for both older and younger staff, including opportunities for mentoring and an exchange of skills. The recent appointment of Ros Altmann as the government’s champion for older workers should help; and the demographics are in our favour. But the most important thing is that older women returners bring masses of experience, skill, discernment and sophistication. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: ‘A mature person is one who doesn't
think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things.’ Lots of reasons to be confident, then, because that’s a pretty valuable set of attributes.


Guest blog by Geraldine Bedell co-founder of The Family Innovation Zone