Thursday 24 September 2015

Career break women: don't write yourself off!

This week I listened to Allison Pearson speak at a Working Families event about the challenges of the Sandwich Generation - juggling work, elderly parents and teenage children. As I laughed at her anecdotes, it rang a few too many bells as I'm currently recovering from my daughter's 18th birthday house party and making plans to support my parents during my mother's imminent hip operation  ... while fitting in the day job of course! 

Allison also talked about her frustration that so many women she knows - all amazingly talented - have given up hope of getting their careers back after taking many years out of the workforce to bring up their children. This I can also relate to; I regularly meet talented and experienced women on career breaks who have similarly written themselves off. 

Typical is Jackie, who stepped back from a high-flying 18-year career when jetting around the world for client pitches became impossible with three young children. She told me apologetically: "I've mainly been just a mum for years now, doing bits of consultancy for small businesses, nothing exciting." Approaching her fifties, with teenage children, she was sceptical of her chances of restarting her career: "I'd love to have a great job again but it's been too long. Who would want me now? Media is a young person's world and I'm too old to start again."

I can remember my own doubts and insecurities after four years out. It is so easy to give up when well-crafted job applications are ignored and recruiters dismiss your chances. Keen to relaunch in your previous field, you can start your job search with a burst of enthusiasm, but then rapidly become disillusioned. 48-year-old Carmen, who had wanted to resume her career as a City macro-economist, was told by a headhunter that she had "no chance on earth of going back to the financial sector" after a seven year break. So she wrote off this option, decided she'd have to start again at the bottom and took a minimum wage internship with a charity.

At Women Returners we are fighting hard at a business level to tackle this waste of female talent, by working with organisations to create more routes back into satisfying corporate roles. But if we're going to succeed in this objective, we also need you to remove any limits you are placing on yourself - to value yourself and what you can bring to the workforce:

1. Don't minimise yourself. You're not "just a mum", you didn't run "just a small business from home" and your previous professional success wasn't down to luck.

2. Remember you are still the same talented professional woman you were and you will quickly get back up to speed. You also have a wealth of new skills developed during your break, combined with maturity and a fresh perspective.

3. Know that UK businesses want you back. Companies from Credit Suisse to Thames Tideway Tunnel are launching returner programmes. I talk every week to many companies who see returners as an untapped talent pool which can both fill capability gaps and build diversity.

4. Be open-minded about new possibilities. If you don't want to go back to your old career, you are not too old to retrain into a new career or set up your own business and, most importantly, all those years of experience will still count.

5. Don't give up. We're not claiming that getting back into a great job after many years out is easy, but it is possible with determination and persistence, as our many return-to-work success stories demonstrate.

Carmen didn't give up and is now back working as an Executive Director in the City through participating in Morgan Stanley's returnship programme. And Jackie is starting to explore other options as well as reconnecting with her ex-colleagues who remember her as an amazing boss, not "just a mum". If you want to restart your career, remind yourself of Henry Ford's words ...

Posted by Julianne; Adapted from a Mumsnet Guest blog I wrote in April.

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