Friday 30 October 2015

Reflections on Suffragette - How much progress have women made?

Following a weekend when, with my teenage daughter, I attended a feminism conference and watched the harrowing and dramatic new movie, Suffragette, I have been reflecting on the progress of women in society in general and in the workforce in particular.

The conference reminded me that there are still many aspects of life where there is inequality for women, but the film brought home how much has changed for women since we were given the vote, which is itself a relatively recent event, happening less than 100 years ago in this country. Since then, our family law has enshrined that women are no longer the property of men, maternity rights and pay have been extended and the right to request flexible working and shared parental leave have been introduced. And in recent years there has been a focus on balancing the boardroom and addressing the gender pay gap. Indeed in the past week, the Government has announced a process requiring companies to report on the gender pay differential in their organisations and Lord Davies has announced an extension of the 25% target for women on boards, to 30%. This success is, in large part, a result of the work of the 30% Club.

Thinking about my own experience of the world of work, I again see progress. 20 years ago, I was the first person in my organisation to request to work part-time following my first maternity leave! When I stopped work after my mother became terminally ill and I was pregnant with my second child, there was a complete absence of support for women in my position. I resolved then to put my energies into contributing in some way to changing the experience for others. Since returning to work 10 years ago, I have been encouraged to see how enlightened employers now offer KIT days, maternity coaching and a variety of flexible working arrangements as they have recognised that they want to retain their female workforce. And Julianne and I have been delighted with the reception we continue to receive from organisations which are waking up to the neglected, but amazing, pool of talent that is women on extended career breaks. Our experience is that companies are acknowledging that women on career break are highly skilled and motivated and the companies are starting to work out ways to get you back into work.

Although many of these innovations seem normal now, none were easy to achieve and I'm very aware that there continue to be problems for women in the workforce which need to be resolved. But I am hopeful that things will be different - and better - for my daughter's generation. Our conclusions from the conference were that we need to do more to get men on board with these issues and that to paraphrase Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women's Equality Party, change will only happen through action, not words. We will be continuing to pursue the goals of Women Returners: what action will you take?

Posted by Katerina

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Regain your (email) identity

Amir ... RichardYoung@ ... Sarah & Simon ... TheJohnsons@ ...

These are all variations on email names and addresses which have recently shown up in my inbox. Stay-at-home dads looking to get back to work? Emails from friends? No, all of these messages were from professional women wanting advice about returning to work. 

What's in a name?

It sounds like a small thing, but don't underestimate what your email name and address say about you. An email is often your first point of contact in your job exploration, be it for a networking connection or a recruitment application. In the same way as recent research* has found that you're less likely to appear hirable to recruiters if you have a funny or informal email address, using a family, joint or husband's mail name/address can affect how people see you. Your electronic identity risks labeling you as a mum or wife, with all the accompanying stereotypes, rather than the giving credible professional image you want to convey. 

There is also something symbolic about setting up a personal email address for your back-to-work communications. If you're at home looking after your family, it's easy to lose sight of yourself while you're caring for others and being someone's mum/daughter. This is one simple way to start regaining your own independent identity.

How to create a professional email identity

  1. If you only have a family or joint email, set up a personal one - it's a 5 minute task using a provider such as hotmail or google mail.
  2. Make sure that your work email address is a formal one, ideally some variation on your full name (eg.
  3. Use the name you'll be using for work and on your CV. Be consistent - don't make your email your family name if you'll be using your maiden name.
  4. Whether it's a new or an existing address, check how your email name appears when it's received. You can see this by sending a test email. Make sure it's your full name that comes up & if not change the user name in your email settings.
  5. And, of course, make sure you add the new address to Outlook, your phone and anywhere else you monitor emails so you can easily monitor and promptly reply to all your work-related emails.  
Research from VU University Amsterdam in Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking journal

Related posts on the psychological side of regaining your identity

Reconnecting with your professional self
Who am I anyway?

Posted by Julianne

Friday 16 October 2015

Return to work inspiration from the Great British Bake Off!

As one of the 14 million people who watched the Great British Bake Off final, I was as moved as many others by the winner, Nadiya's spontaneous tearful declaration that she would never again place limits on herself. Nadiya's comments resonated with me both as a fellow shortie and because of all my experience of women who've overcome their self-imposed limits to return to work after a long break. Nadiya, herself, stopped working 10 years ago when her first child was born.

I thought about all the people who tell me that they're:
  • too old
  • too out-of-date
  • too far behind in their knowledge and understanding
  • too low in confidence
  • too low in skills
  • unable to manage work and their other commitments
  • unable to decide among too many options
  • lacking a network and even
  • unemployable
and so are unable to return to their career.

And at the same time, I thought of all the women I've worked with and met through the years who have overcome what appeared to be insurmountable barriers and found a way back to work they enjoy, whether it be through a returnship, their revived network, further study, creating their own business or a direct application. You can read some of their stories here.

For those of you who are still uncertain about your next move, you don't have to take the extreme step of applying for a national TV baking competition, but do think about some small steps that could put you onto the path towards returning to work and read some of the posts highlighted below. Above all, remind yourself of Nadiya's comments to The Times: "You may be scared, you may doubt yourself but it doesn't mean you can't do it."

Recommended posts to get past your barriers:
Am I being selfish by wanting to work?
Where's my confidence gone?
Tackling perfectionism: is 'good enough' not good enough for you?
Too many choices
Too few choices: advice on identifying post break options
Do all working mothers have to feel guilty?
Are 'shoulds' ruling your return to work decisions?
How to make time for your return to work job search

Posted by Katerina

Saturday 10 October 2015

Changing the image of work-life balance

What image comes to mind when you think about work-life balance? When I googled the term the most common pictures are 

... the Work-Life scales ...

... and the Work-Life seesaw ...

No question here that it's a Work versus Life trade-off. If this is your mental view of balance too, it's hard not to feel that going back to work will inevitably conflict with your family and personal life. 

In fact, as we've discussed before in this blog, work can be re-integrated into your life in a positive way, improving your life and family satisfaction. With this in mind, I'd like to suggest an alternative image. Think about your life as a jigsaw puzzle that you are in control of creating. The puzzle pieces are the different elements of your life: friends, parents, children, partner, community, hobbies, exercise, religion, voluntary work etc. It's up to you to select the pieces you most want to include at this stage of your life. To incorporate a new piece - 'paid work' - you need to consider how large a piece of the jigsaw you would like this to be right now. Which other pieces are you going to put aside or shrink in size, to make space to slot the work piece in? Bear in mind an image of choosing and fitting together the pieces in a way that works for you - and be flexible to adjust the shape and form as your circumstances change. 

I really like the jigsaw image, as it reflects the way I integrate work within my life. If you can suggest any other alternative images to replace the scales/seesaw, do let us know!  

Related posts
Creating your own work-life balance

Posted by Julianne

Friday 2 October 2015

Don't write yourself off - employers want returners!

I'm following up Julianne's post from last week to reinforce her point about UK companies being interested in returners with an array of recent evidence.

In September alone, we introduced a new initiative for returning professionals in partnership with Centrica, Mars and Vodafone, which are combining their efforts in the HitReturn returners programme: we also provided the coaching support at the start of the RBS Strategy ComeBack programme. At the same time, Deloitte, Allen & Overy and Cushman & Wakefield welcomed their first cohorts of returners and Morgan Stanley's second programme commenced. In October, the first UK JP Morgan programme gets underway and we will have news of other upcoming programmes. 

Simultaneously, our supported hiring innovation extends the range of options available to companies which wish to hire returners directly into open positions, while still providing support through the transition period. We are delighted that major employers, in particular M&G Investments, have signed up to this approach and we have more opportunities in the pipeline with smaller as well as larger employers. One employer we've already worked with told us that she was delighted to have accessed "a pool of top quality people" which she would otherwise have missed out on. 

Despite all this encouragement, we recognise that there are still too far few openings for women returning to work after a career break and are focused on widening the range and variety of options available. We'd love to hear from you if you've been able to return to fulfilling work after your career break.

Posted by Katerina