Thursday 29 September 2016

Mastering the Difficult Conversation

How good are you at having difficult conversations? Learning to communicate more effectively can help to prepare you for your return to work. 

Would you rather run for the hills than have a really tricky conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable? How good are you at communicating your own needs and reaching compromises and solutions?  

If like me, you are naturally a people pleaser who dislikes conflict, you might find yourself using classic avoidance tactics rather than have a difficult conversation. We tell ourselves many things: “It’s not my place”; “Someone else will do it”; “What good will it do?” or “It’s easier to do it myself than have the conversation”.

But what is the price that we pay for avoiding these conversations?

Back in my corporate career days, I got much better at having difficult conversations – it took practice and time but I got there. However since becoming a mother and taking two career breaks I feel that these skills have got a little rusty! And sometimes, frankly, it can be harder to have the difficult conversations with those closest to you than it is with colleagues in the office.

I have found similar experiences amongst women who I have coached to return to work and who find it very difficult to communicate with other key family members about their plans to return to work.

This is often driven by a range of fears – “My partner won’t like the changes at home;  “My children won’t like me not being around”; “My elderly parents need me and won’t understand”; No-one will offer me a job anyway so there is no point in talking about it…” and of course, the big one which is rooted in our own fear of what the new might look like for everybody, ourselves very much included.

The irony, however is that this is exactly the time when you need the support behind you to make the transition and journey back to work as easy as possible!
So how can you practice getter better at difficult conversations to ease your return to work and to help manage your career once back in the workplace?
  1. Change your mindset – ask yourself what is the risk to me and/or this relationship if I don’t have this difficult conversation? Try to identify what is difficult about it – what are you afraid will be the outcome? What is the worst that can happen?
  2. Remove emotion. Easy to say particularly if this is a conversation in our personal lives but try to control your emotion – use questions and ask the other person how they feel about the subject in question? Ask them what they would suggest and like to see happen.
  3.  Be clear on what you are asking for. If it’s for more support around the house, for instance, be clear on what this might look like – ask your partner for input and suggestions and draw up a rota of chores. Make sure there’s time blocked out for each of you and time together.
  4. Don’t make it about winning an argument – see it as finding a resolution that works for everyone, particularly family life!
  5. Practice an easy one first. If you are not ready to approach the bigger subjects immediately, practice having a difficult conversation with a family member or friend – perhaps one you’ve avoided for some time but would like to address. Take confidence from that first!
Feeling more confident at approaching things you might usually avoid will help build your confidence in approaching people who can help with your return to work and asking for advice, input or introductions. Inevitably when you return to work there will be difficult conversations to be had at times with bosses and colleagues. Remembering the tips above will make this much less daunting when the time comes!
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Coach & Facilitator, Women Returners

Friday 23 September 2016

Back to your Future? Join us at the Women Returners Conference 2016

London November 14th 2016

How our first Conference came about

At Women Returners, we've been talking for a year or so about holding our own large-scale event in London. We've had many requests from our network for a forum where they can both meet other returning professional women and get advice and support from us in person. I loved the idea, as we know how isolating it can be when you decide to return to the workforce after a break. I also saw this as a great opportunity to bring returners together with the corporate employers interested in hiring them, and for a group of inspiring women who had successfully returned to the workforce after a long break to tell their stories to others.

However, we were also rather daunted. Although we have lots of experience of running workshops and event speaking, we worried that moving into event management would involve a whole new set of skills. Recognising this as a 'Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway' moment, we decided to practice what we preach and to give it a go! We brought in the expertise of Stephanie as our events consultant and the Conference started to take shape. 

What's happening at the Conference

It has been a lot of work to set up, but I'm very excited by the programme on offer. We're delighted to have sponsorship from the ICAEW, who are hosting the event in Central London, and from a diverse range of employers who will be on hand to talk about their returner programmes and to meet informally with the women attending (including Credit Suisse, Skanska, O2 and Fidelity International). The fantastic Jane Garvey from Woman's Hour will be speaking, as will Brenda Trenowden, the Chair of the 30% Club who is a strong advocate of returnship programmes. We have panels of successful returners who can tell you what it's really like to be on a returnship and how to make your own way back if a returner programme doesn't appeal or isn't available. 

You'll get to meet a peer group of like-minded women - and the Women Returners team! I'll be telling you about the changing context for UK returners and running a workshop to help you to be more targeted in your career. And those who register soon will have the chance of a 1-1 coaching session with one of our expert coaches. You'll also get CV advice from Victoria McLean at City CV.

There's much more on offer through the day, so do look at our website for more details if you can make it to London on 14th November: Women Returners Conference. Through sponsorship we've managed to heavily subsidise the tickets so they're only £85 before 30th Sept.

We hope to meet you then!

Posted by Julianne

Thursday 15 September 2016

Taking care of yourself: put your own oxygen mask on first ...

If you’re anything like me, when you’re on a plane and the safety briefing comes on, you switch off and focus on your magazine (or screaming child!). But you probably know the bit that says “put your own oxygen mask on before your child’s”. Most women I know could learn from this. We tend to put everyone else’s needs before our own. So much so that we can end up exhausted, burnt out and at rock bottom before we actually take care of ourselves.

Chances are the demands on your time and energy are already copious. If you’re returning to work those demands will likely increase. If you're also a mother, at this time of year when kids are back at school, it seems there are 101 small things to remember and this can feel exhausting. If you’re running on empty though you’ll struggle to truly enjoy life and be at your best. When I returned to work after my maternity leave it took me a throat infection that lasted two months and a shaky tremor in my hands that wouldn’t go away before I realised I was no good to anyone if I wasn’t looking after myself.

So stop, just for a couple of minutes and think – what’s my “oxygen mask”? What 3 things could I do to take better care of myself?

A few suggestions to help you think about your own personal ways to recharge your batteries:
  • Take a walk outside in the fresh air – ideally in a green, open space – spend some time in nature. Try to stroll and enjoy your surroundings.
  • Do exercise that you enjoy – highly energetic or reflective – just about any exercise will tend to do the trick!
  • Have a chat with a good friend – just ask them to listen to you for a bit – and feel free to ramble.
  • Rediscover a hobby or creative interest – watercolour painting, playing the piano, swimming, stamp collecting…..just something you enjoy! It can help if you are learning a new skill and where you are so involved in it you haven’t got room for worrying about anything else.
  • Get some extra sleep – go to bed early for a couple of nights, switch off electronic devices at least an hour before bed time, have a bath before bed.
  • Sit down for 15 minutes to have a cup of tea – and don’t do anything else!
  • Have an ‘electronic-free’ day – the incessant pull of technology can be draining. Switching it off can enable you to switch off for a while and literally ‘recharge’.
  • Cut out something in your life. If you had 5 fewer hours every week what would you drop? Give yourself some breathing space.
  • If you can afford it, have a massage.
  • Laughter is the best medicine. Watch a comedy or play silly games with your kids.
  • Meditation or mindfulness may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But simply sitting with your eyes closed in a comfy position and focusing on taking deep, slow breaths can do wonders.
  • Listen to music - sing along to your favourite song.
The next time you are feeling overwhelmed, when you know you are not at your best but are relentlessly pushing on, remember to put on your oxygen mask first.

Posted by Anna Johnstone, Coach & Facilitator, Women Returners

Friday 9 September 2016

Returnships on the Radio

It was fantastic to have the opportunity, this week, to spread the word about the benefits and growth of returnships on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. Rachel Tomkins, a project manager at Tideway, also discussed her experiences on the 2014 Tideway Returner Programme.

If you missed it, you can listen on iPlayer until Tuesday using this link: ‪ … … (it's a 5 minute clip, 2:49 into the programme).

Posted by Julianne

Friday 2 September 2016

Building a Portfolio Career

Do you want to develop a portfolio career after your career break? Are you not quite sure whether you'd be suited to it?  Our guest blogger, Ally Maughan of People Puzzles can help.

‘Portfolio career’ is a phrase that is gaining traction and popularity, but it's meaning is often still a little murky. Defined as having several part-time jobs at once, rather than one full time role, it has the potential to be very flexible, varied and immensely satisfying. So why aren’t more people doing it?

At People Puzzles we have built our business on hiring HR Directors who have left a busy, often national or international corporate role, who want to work in a different way, whether that is to facilitate more time with the family, a better work-life balance, or is the start of a journey into retirement. We help our team to develop portfolios of clients, typically working with between six and 10 different companies, working with each between three and six days per month.

That means we spend a lot of time thinking about who is best suited to a portfolio career, how can we help people succeed, what are the challenges, and how do we find brilliant people who can quickly adapt to a different life.

Start with the why.

We always start with why someone wants to build a portfolio career. It certainly is not the easy option: imagine trying to find five jobs at the same time instead of just one! Recruiters don’t typically work in this market, your CV is usually designed for a corporate role, and you are often offering services to people who don’t have a budget, don’t know they need what you have to offer, or have never heard of someone working in a portfolio way.

That is why the why is so important. You have to be absolutely committed to this way of working. To knowing you value flexibility, usually over income in the short term, and sometimes in the short term. You often don’t get a benefits package, paid holiday or sick leave. What you can get is lucrative work, full flexibility, more availability in school holidays, and such a variety of work that no two days are the same.

Here are five top things we think you will need to be successful:

1.     Aptitude
Not every personality type or behavioural approach is suited to portfolio working. There is a lot of juggling, switching attention between your different roles and responsibilities, which are usually in different locations meaning every day is in a different place. How do you react when there is a problem at one of your clients? Can you quickly prioritise, act and problem solve? How do you manage working for three or more different bosses without going quietly mad?

Portfolio working can often work best when you have expert skills to offer, you can keep the roles you have long term, and you can quickly build and maintain relationships in each role. Seriously consider if this describes you and the way you approach work, otherwise a permanent full or part time job may well suit you better.

2.     Energy & enthusiasm
Building a portfolio is a time consuming business. If finding one job normally takes a couple of months at a senior level, finding three, or even up to 10 can take a year. You will need to be overflowing with energy, enthusiasm and optimism to build your portfolio. This will also help you land opportunities as, in our experience, people buy a smiling, positive person over a glass half empty kind of person.

3.     Your proposition
What is it that you are really selling? Who will buy it? How much will you charge? Having left a career as an employee, moving into selling your services in a different way can take some careful thought, development and testing (there is a reason there are so many Focus Groups on The Apprentice!). As People Puzzles has grown, we have had the luxury of spending a bit of money on senior marketing people. They have helped us to develop what we sell, who buys it, why they buy it, what problems we really solve, and why clients would buy from us not from someone else. Think about what makes you different, what value you deliver and what problems you solve. Buyers typically want problems to be solved rather than pie in the sky dreams to be fulfilled. Take a day out and really hammer this out if you are going it alone.

4.     Routes to market
Any good marketing strategy covers how your buyers will find you. If you are starting a portfolio career the easiest and cheapest way to get started will be to go and join someone else’s business that is already offering this. Of course you will have to share in the fees, but this is often very cost effective when you consider the costs of a website, blogs, networking, setting up a sales function etc.

If you are committed to trying it on your own, think about what partnerships you will need, how you will meet your clients, what events to attend, and whether digital marketing is going to deliver you good opportunities. If you have a lump sum, you can always buy a franchise, but remember you will still need to do most of the sales work yourself. 

5.     A network
Without a doubt, being established as an expert in a network is of crucial importance to quickly growing a portfolio. And that network needs to be relevant to the services you are offering right now. If you are well known in corporate circles, can you sell back in to that market? We estimate it takes 1-2 years to build a network in the SME market, so build that into your plans for getting busy.

It may seem a daunting challenge, but for those that persevere, portfolio working can be an extremely rewarding and flexible career choice. When it doesn’t work, our advice is to go and find something else that you enjoy and that is easier to maintain. However, if you really understand what you are selling, and have the contacts to maintain a steady stream of opportunities, it can be a way of working that you maintain over decades. 

Ally Maughan, Founder and CEO of People Puzzles, provider of portfolio HR Directors. People Puzzles is part of The Liberti Group, a global provider of high calibre part-time professionals with opportunities for portfolio FDs, Marketing Directors, IT Directors, Financial Controllers and Finance Managers.