Friday 25 November 2016

Top 5 Conference Return to Work Tips

We've just about recovered from our Women Returners Conference last week ... the pre-organisation, the excitement of the day and the post-event exhaustion! It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm and energy of our 175 attendees and very rewarding for us to read the positive feedback we received after the event (see here for Conference photos and comments).

For those of you who weren't able to join us, I wanted to share some advice from our speakers and from our panelists of successful returners and returner employers. 

Top 5 Return to Work Tips

1. Don't underestimate yourself.  This was a consistent theme, starting with our first keynote speaker Jane Garvey's observation that women too easily doubt our own abilities and that we need to recognise that we bring so much more to the table than we think.

2. Think maturity not age. Our ICAEW employer panel talked about the value to companies both of life maturity and of the amazing array of skills and experience that returners can offer in comparison with a young graduate and even compared with people who have risen up through the ranks.

3. Appreciate your 'Cognitive Diversity'. Brenda Trenowden, Chair of 30% Club, highlighted the push from UK business to increase diversity. Alongside diversity of gender, age and ethnicity the new goal is a team with 'cognitive diversity'.  Basically, companies are valuing people who think differently. From my experience, seeing the world in a different way comes easily to people returning after a career break - you return with a new, and often more balanced, perspective.

4. Be brave and move out of your comfort zone. Many of our panelists, including those with very impressive CVs, talked about the self-doubt and anxiety they had faced on their return to work. However, all of them said that the pain was worth it in the end!

5. Move to action. This was my main takeout from the stories we heard. Don't procrastinate endlessly, looking for the perfect next step. One of our panelists retrained as a mediator, before deciding that wasn't the right path for her; she's now working in a legal role she loves after taking a set of interim legal roles along the way. It may be a windy road back, but you'll learn more by doing than by thinking.

More advice
We're working on some advice video clips from Conference speakers and panelists and hope to share these with you over the next month or so. In the meantime, see our website for other returner stories and advice.

Posted by Julianne

Thursday 17 November 2016

Find your road to success

Following our Women Returners UK Conference on Monday, we're delighted to feature a guest blog this week by one of our wonderful returner panelists, Samina Malik

The road to success is always under construction (Lily Tomlin)

If someone had told me 6 months ago that I would be a panelist at the first Women Returners Conference being interviewed by Jane Garvey (of Radio 4 Women’s Hour fame) with two other incredibly talented and inspiring panelists, in front of an audience of nearly 200 women, talking about my successful journey back to work at O2 … I would probably think they were mad!
My experience in looking for suitable roles to get back into work had been that I had a CV gap and I couldn’t return to corporate world. My degree, my previous extensive corporate experience for 11 years, my voluntary work … it all counted for nothing. 

The fact that during my “time out” to raise my family I had continued to develop whilst doing one of the most difficult jobs around ... as a leader, innovator, problem-solver, negotiator, teacher, project manager, care-giver, nurse, psychologist, financial manager, supreme organiser … basically as a mother … didn’t count.  I was told the best I could do now was to become a part time teacher/tutor or executive assistant

But I wasn’t going to let that stop me as I knew that there was more to me. The constant googling paid off … I read about Women Returners a leading organisation in the returnship space, offering help to people like me. In one of their newsletters I saw the O2 Career Returners programme being advertised. This was it, I thought. My skillset was relevant, the commute was manageable, a work/life balance was on offer … I was going to go for it. 

Fast forward the last 6 months or so and on Monday I attended the sold-out Women Returners Conference as a panelist, to talk about my “successful return to work” journey in a room full of hugely talented and qualified women … an untapped pool (more like a sea) of potential … looking to make their own journeys back to work. 

Thank you Julianne Miles and all the talented team at Women Returners, for your work in this area is amazing, actually life changing. I was honoured to be invited as a panelist and proud to represent O2, a company investing in Diversity & Inclusion programmes because it recognises that it makes business sense to have an employee workforce that reflects its 25 million customer base. It also makes business sense because having a diverse workforce creates happier, more productive and more innovative business teams.  

To all those who, for whatever reason, decided to leave work but are now looking to return … know that it is possible. Stay positive and keep an open mind about the opportunities that come your way. Believe in yourself and your own strengths, don’t let the inner critic grind you down. Engage with Women Returners (or similar organisations) to help support you on your journey. The journey will have twists and turns, it might be smooth or bumpy but it’s a journey of discovery and I look forward to what lies ahead on my road to success.

Samina Malik, Supplier Manager at O2 

Friday 4 November 2016

8 Tips for Confident Communication when Returning to Work

This week's guest blog is by Sophie Clark from Denison Clark

Communicating with confidence and impact consistently in meetings, on conference calls and during presentations can be a challenge when returning to work.  As a workplace communication expert I help people to build their confidence, polish their skills and avoid some the common pitfalls when speaking. I have put together 8 tips and tricks to remind you how to communicate with greater impact when returning to work.

Give me time to think
Speaking too fast is a credibility disaster. Pause. All the time. Break up what you’re saying. If you speak how I am writing now, if you pause often, it’s the cheapest trick in the book to look calm and authoritative. Yes, it really is that simple. Watch Condoleezza Rice to see it done well and steer clear of Tony Blair’s pausing style.

Audience first
There are people who say 93% of your message is body language and voice. This has been taken out of context for years. Getting your content right is critical and so stop naval gazing and first think about your audience. Lead with why your audience should listen to you? What should they know? How will it impact them? What do you want them to do?

Please don't put on a ‘show’
We are often told to “fake it till you make it”, but this advice is better targeted when taking on a new role, not with your communication style. News flash - you are most likable when you are your warm, authentic, natural and professional self. I spend my life removing the masks from my female clients, so don't wear a mask thinking it will help you appear more confident when you speak. Pretending to be someone you’re not is not only exhausting but it makes it harder for others to trust you.

Power pose
This term was coined from Harvard professor, Amy Cuddy. If you don’t know who she is, take 20 mins and watch her 35 million times viewed TED talk. Taking time to make yourself ‘big’ before you speak has been scientifically proven to reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) and increase testosterone (the confidence hormone). This uses your body’s natural hormones rather than play acting being someone else. If you haven't watched this talk I cannot recommend it highly enough. Find a spare board room or empty bathroom and ‘wonder woman’ your way back in.

Put your hands up
Put your hands (and forearms) on the table in meetings if you want more presence. If your comfort zone is to place them in your lap, then please, change your comfort zone! This matters particularly for women. 70% of my female clients show this behaviour and it can make them look small and under confident. Only about 5% of my male clients do this and the perception difference is huge.

Practice how you introduce yourself
Humans judge each other. Naturally, sub consciously, all the time. You will likely have an opinion of The Queen, Barack Obama and Sheryl Sandberg even though you may not have met them. I've met returning colleagues who have said "Hi, I'm Alex. I'm back after maternity leave and am working 3 days a week now". What I take away is the external side of Alex’s life and their working hours. What I am missing is what is Alex is doing in her role and what impact that is having to the firm. E.g. "Hi, I'm Alex. I'm back after maternity leave and I’m working mainly on X project X for Y client." There's nothing wrong with talking about your time out or your children, but be careful if that's what you lead with or the only thing I know about you.

Speak up and be counted
Perhaps your comfort zone is to sit, watch and participate later, particularly as you catch up and build confidence back. Whilst no one likes the over talker in a meeting, be aware that repeatedly saying nothing can be career damaging. A sage piece of advice I was once given was by a senior female investment banker who said "don't speak unless you have something worth saying, but don't let people judge your silence as a distinct lack of interest or ability".

And finally..  stop the negative chatter in your head
Internal communication matters just as much. Mentally, many of us have “obnoxious roommates in your heads” as Ariana Huffington calls them. Voices who say – you’re not good enough/ you’re brain’s been a little mushy since the baby/ technology has moved on so quickly/ people are going to know I’ve lost my edge/ I can’t give it the time it deserves…. I even had clients who refer to themselves as “has-beens’”. You have the power to stop these thoughts, especially if they are not helping you. If this is happening, it’s time to get some control back and park them.

Good luck. Power pose. Pause. Think about your audience and please be your authentic, polished true self.

About Sophie
Sophie is a communication expert at Denison Clark. She coaches small groups and individuals to speak with more confidence, clarity and impact across their work conversations and presentations.