Tuesday 19 December 2017

Season's Greetings from Women Returners

Many thanks for following our Women Returners Back to Your Future blog in 2017. We've been quiet recently but will be back to regular posting in the New Year.

Friday 24 November 2017

Top Tips from Returner Employers

For those of you who missed our Conference on Monday, we'll be sharing tips, advice and video on this blog over the coming weeks. To get started, here's some advice from our returner employer panel.

Be clear on the skills you bring
The panel suggested that returners practice articulating what skills they bring, and also advocating for the skills they developed while on their career break. Sharmini Selverajah, Head of the Returner Policy Team at the Government Equalities Office said “Remember to recognise the skills you gained outside of paid work”. She confirmed that she is much better at her work as a result of experience raising her children, including managing and negotiating.
Flexibility is possible
The panel confirmed that many returners are working flexibly. Stephanie Marshall, Talent Acquisition Lead for Fidelity International, stated that flexible working is now requested by employees throughout the organisation, including millennials. Five years ago, no one would ask about flexibility. “Now, they are much more up front about it,” she said. 
Practice your negotiation skills
Tricia Nelson, Head of Talent at EY, suggested women returning to work should practice their negotiation skills, be direct about what they need and not talk themselves out of a higher salary or better terms. “Ask for what you want and then zip it,” she said. “Don’t unpack it live.” Alexander Clifford-Turner, EMEA chief financial data offer for Bloomberg, agreed: “It’s a very good tactic to say what you want and shut up.” 
Don’t sell yourself short
Returners are now seen by many employers as a valuable talent pool. Sharmini Selverajah said "The business case is clear". Of course, you need to find the employers who will value your skills and experience - looking for companies with returner programmes and/or family-friendly working policies is a good way to do that.

Monday 30 October 2017

Antje's Story - Returning to work as a Civil Engineer

Antje returned to work this year via the Balfour Beatty Returner Programme. Read her story:

I have spent all my working life in the construction industry, starting with an apprenticeship as a traditional carpenter in my native Germany. After a few years, I decided to further my career and studied for a BSc in Civil Engineering in England. After graduating, I worked for a national contractor as a site engineer, constructing bridges for the M6 Toll. Different site projects followed within the water and transport sectors. I worked my way up to senior engineer, becoming involved with subcontractor supervision, quality management and some design coordination. I passed my professional review during this time and am now an incorporated civil engineer.
I then had a nine-year career break to bring up my two young children. During my break, I joined the local branch of the Institution of Civil Engineers. This enabled me to keep a connection with the industry and to continue networking.
I started looking into returning to work when my younger child started school. I found very quickly that jobs that were local and part-time were few and far between, even outside the construction industry. I thought about retraining, but felt that I would like to return to a role where I could utilise my previous training and experience.
One problem I encountered was how to approach the opportunity for flexible/ part-time working when this might not have been part of the original job description.
The Returners Programme offered by Balfour Beatty was the first role I saw which ticked the boxes of a technical role, as well as being part-time. The company was open to discussions around flexible and part-time working, which really helped with my transition back into work.
I have found Balfour Beatty to be very flexible. I am based in the office now, which enables me to work more flexibly than my previous site-based roles. I can access my work from home, so if I need to, I can catch-up on work, or work around meetings away from the office. I think recent developments in technology have helped with these changes. The team I work in have also been very supportive in helping me adjust and learn more about my new role.
The Returners Programme was supported by coaching sessions delivered by Women Returners. This gave me the chance to get to know my fellow returners, and we continue to keep in touch, which is a great support.
During the coaching sessions, we were given really good advice on how to overcome challenges during our first days and weeks. We also had the chance to think about potential stumbling blocks and came away with some great tools, like how to use LinkedIn effectively to network.
I am happy to be back at work in a role that utilises my training and experience; developing my skills within design coordination and management. Compared to before my career break, my life feels more balanced, which makes it worthwhile. Sometimes my role can be stressful, but, overall, things have been working out really well so far.
My advice for other women returning to work? I found that doing some construction-related volunteering gave me something relevant to include on my CV. This also helped me to keep up to speed with developments in the industry. I found a lot of help online, like the Women Returners CV writing webinars, which are often available at no cost.

If you would like support with your own return-to-work journey, you can sign up to our free network here.

Thursday 12 October 2017

5 Tips for Retraining During a Career Break

If you're a mother thinking about retraining during your career break, this week's guest blog by Elvira Tynan, Co-Head of Learning at Digital Mums, is for you!

Retraining can be a great option if you’re thinking of getting back into work after a career break. Here at Digital Mums we train mums in social media marketing so they can find flexible work that syncs with family life. Many of the mums who come to us have been out of the workplace for some time and find our courses are a great stepping stone to new opportunities, not to mention a much needed confidence boost. On graduating many Digital Mums go on to work as freelance social media managers from home. But for others retraining is a route to a returnship. One of our graduates, for example, is currently part of a returnship at Mediacom after 24 years out of the workplace.

Making the decision that you are keen to retrain (or indeed just to do some training) is the first step but how do you make the most of the opportunity after a potentially long time away from studying?  Read on for our top five tips for making the most out of possible training opportunities (and not just ones with Digital Mums!):

1. Try something new.
Just because you’ve not done something before, it definitely doesn't mean you can't. At Digital Mums for example our courses are in social media marketing but many of our students come from really diverse backgrounds.  In fact some of our most successful social media managers and digital marketeers have come from the most - on paper - unlikely career backgrounds. Think teachers, solicitors and accountants.  

2. Choose the right course.
While there is no doubt there is a huge variety of courses out there, we would say many are ineffective because they replicate old fashioned ‘chalk and talk’ classroom styles like those you probably had at school. Avoid courses that focus too much on theoretical learning and instead find one that allows students to practically apply what they learn through real world projects or challenges. Online courses are also a great option as it should mean that you can study around your current family and life commitments.

3. Create a good working environment.
You’re likely to be studying at home a great deal so it’s important to set up your home in the right way. Devote an area to your studies and keep it distinct from the rest of the house. Don’t let your children near it if at all possible! Try to work out a routine for how you will fit your studies around other commitments. Many of our students will be up by 5am for example (providing the kids aren’t!) to get their studies out of the way earlier in the day. For others, being a night owl makes more sense. Find what works for you and try to stick to it - regular hours will help maximise your time. But also take advantage of smaller chunks of time during the day and use them to tick off the less ‘brain heavy’ tasks that make up your training.

4. Get digital.
You’re going to be busy juggling your current family or life commitments with training and this could be the first time you’ve learned anything formally since school. There are loads of great digital tools and apps out there to help you manage your time. Get a Gmail account to access Calendar, Google Drive, Docs and Sheets all of which can be used from your phone. Check out Trello which is a brilliant desktop tool and app to manage your tasks and time. Pocket allows you to save articles and blogs to read when you have the chance. And, the extremely nifty If This Then That (IFTTT) has great ‘recipes’ to connect your various digital tools together in useful ways.

5. Connect to your fellow students.
Studying online may make the most sense with the practicalities of your current commitments. But choose a course that has a student forum and where you can connect with your peers to brainstorm ideas and work collaboratively on projects. You can get some face-to-face time via Skype or Google Hangouts too. Research shows that peer-to-peer learning can be very powerful so you’ll benefit in lots of ways.

You can find out about Digital Mums Social Media Management Courses at www.digitalmums.com/learn

Thursday 28 September 2017

Make Stress your Friend

It can feel very stressful going back to work: networking, knock-backs, interviews, and the inevitable pressures that a new job brings, no matter how happy you are to be back.

We're used to seeing stress as a bad thing to be avoided. That's why I love this 2013 TED Talk by Stanford Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal. She explains how new research has found that how we think about stress transforms our experience of it - stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. If we see stress as helpful, it can help us to be more courageous and to rise to a challenge. She also explains how caring for others makes us more resilient  - less surprising, but good to hear the research!

Posted by Julianne

Friday 15 September 2017

Setting up an architecture practice - Francesca's story

Hello to all the women returners!

My name is Francesca Romana Mazzenga. If you are reading this you probably are in the situation where for one reason or another you stopped working full, or part-time. I left the architectural practice where I had been working for 5 years, probably for the most common reason: I sacrificed my career, which was going so well, to follow my husband to be who was relocated abroad.
In Mauritius to be precise. Fantastic opportunity!

Back then I never would have thought I wouldn’t have worked in a practice for 13 years! I planned to go back to my previous job, as my boss had said to me to get in touch as soon as our two years’ relocation was over. That was the plan. But you all know sometimes plans and life don’t exactly coincide.

Little did I know that two years became three before we moved back to England, to another city. My daughter was born in Mauritius, she was two and a half by then and she was to become a big sister soon. But after four years, we moved again, to Italy this time, for another two and a half years.

The years were passing by and with moving and raising a family I hardly realised how many had already gone! What did I do all this time? Well, I worked as freelance architect, working in Liverpool, Mauritius and Rome, until we moved to Italy where I started teaching yoga and volunteering in the school my kids attended, becoming governor and getting involved with the Children’s University, creating a lecture for the kids regarding architecture and signing up many local points of interest to the scheme.

Once back in England I taught yoga for another year but I always wanted to go back to my professional job as an architect.  I re-registered as a professional at the ARB (Architect’s Registration Board) and started monitoring job advertisements in conjunction with lots of reading, CPDs and catching up, but sadly not a single advertisement was for a part-time architect to suit a mum who still had to do school runs.

I was getting discouraged and it was only when my husband sent me the link to the Women Returners' website that I discovered how many women shared the same difficulty. It gave me strength. I got in touch with the WR’s team asking for advice before the interview I was asked to go to in my previous practice. After that interview I realised that working in practice wasn’t exactly feasible for me at present, especially not in Manchester, where the interview was (we live in Liverpool at the moment).

I knew I had to go on my own. In December 2016, I had a plan of getting my own practice up and running by March 2017. Again, plans and life… I got my first assignment in January 2017, when I hadn’t even bought my CAD software to work with yet.

Everything happened really fast but all the experience from my previous jobs came flooding back and I asked myself why I hadn’t done it sooner. I am also learning a lot about social media, which, many of you can confirm, is a very important tool at present. My practice has just started but it’s keeping busy.

In all this I learned that if you really want something you can do it, sometimes you may need some self-encouragement, but don’t be shy to share your plans and objectives, via word of mouth or social media, because you may find the one person that needs your services as much as you need theirs. Spread the word.

I am feeling happy even if this means working evenings and weekends sometimes, I still have time with my family, take the kids to and from school and cook dinners. Good luck to all of us!

If you are an architect who had a career break, please do get in touch with me via info@womenreturners.com. 

Posted by Donna

Friday 1 September 2017

Back to your future? Join us at the Women Returners Conference 2017

Following our blogging summer break, we are excited to announce the launch of our 2017 Conference, on Monday 20 November in London. We ran our first Conference last year (see here for how it came about), and had such positive feedback that we decided to make it into an annual event. 

If you can make it to London, do join us for a day of inspiration, advice and support, specifically designed for women professionals returning to work after a long career break. Alongside workshops and speaker sessions, you will have the opportunity to meet informally with other like-minded women and returner employers. You will also be able to hear the personal experiences of other returners, talking about what it's like to be on a returnship and how they've found being back at work after a long break. The Conference is supported by the 30% Club, and sponsored by Bloomberg and FDM Group (with other sponsors in the pipeline). The content will be relevant to you whether your background is finance, law, tech, engineering, marketing, retail or any other professional area, and whether your career break is 2, 5 or 15+ years.

See here for highlights and a video from our sold-out 2016 event. 

"Brilliant, a belief shifting event. I arrived feeling a lot of too - too old, too out of touch, too long a gap, too unwanted and left with all of those reversed, brimming with possibilities. Thank you." 2016 Conference Attendee
To find out more about the Conference including how to book tickets, see here.

If you're not able to join us, we'll make sure we post advice from our speakers and panelists on the blog after the event. These are our Top 5 Return to Work Tips from last year's Conference.

We hope to see you in November!

Posted by Donna

Thursday 3 August 2017

The 5 Step Summer Return to Work Plan

With the school holidays in full swing and the general feeling that the whole world is slowing down, you may be tempted to postpone your plans to return to work until the autumn. However, away from the hectic pace and demands of the year, this is an ideal time to think about what you really want from a career and to start shaping an action plan for the months ahead. By taking a few simple steps now, you will feel more focused, confident and motivated about gearing up in September:

1. Identify your ideal role

A good starting point is to think about a work role in the past that you enjoyed and then focus on the elements that made it fulfilling. This exercise will help you to highlight your key skills and values and give you the direction you need to scope your job search. You may find that you look for a role in your previous field, or explore the option of starting your own business, or consider a role that combines aspects of your old job, but in a different sector, or you may even think about retraining.  Either way, the process will clarify your thinking and give you the confidence and motivation to pursue that new role. 

2. Planning for courses, workshops or events

Whatever your career stage or length of your career break, everyone can benefit from sharpening their work skills. This is a good time to investigate which courses could best fill your needs. By doing a little research now, you will not only be on your way to plugging a skill gap, but you will also feel more in control.                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Feeling a little overwhelmed at the prospect of researching a return-to-work strategy? Put our Women Returners Annual Conference in your diary for November. It’s an intensive one-stop-shop for finding out about returner opportunities, meeting returner-friendly employers, attending workshops and being inspired by the success stories of other returners.  

3. Create a Network Map

You may be well aware of the benefits of networking – but uncertain where to start. Begin by listing people that you have met through the different phases in your life into three categories: Those from your past academic and work life, people from your current social circles such as volunteer groups, neighbours, parents or fellow sport enthusiasts - and also people who you are yet to meet – through groups and networks. You will be surprised how quickly the list grows and how receptive people are to meeting up after a summer break.

                    Top tips for enjoyable networking

4. Craft your story

Away from the everyday, holidays are often a time when we meet new people in relaxing surroundings. Use the opportunity to practise answering the often daunting but frequently asked question: “What do you do?” Include your previous work, what you are currently doing and what you would like to do in the future.

See our post: Telling your story

5. Prepare your family

Looking for a new position requires time and focus, let alone the actual return to work. Use the summer break to plan how you can free up your time – perhaps by introducing new childcare arrangements, booking after school clubs or reassigning responsibilities among family members.

Posted by Anna Searle, Sales and Marketing Manager, Women Returners

Thursday 20 July 2017

Returner Employer Q&A - Stephanie Marshall, Fidelity International

Julianne from Women Returners interviews Stephanie Marshall, Fidelity International UK & Ireland Talent Acquisition Lead and Programme Manager on Fidelity New Horizons Returner Programme. 

Q. What was Fidelity’s motivation for setting up the New Horizons programme?
A. There are a couple of motivators. We saw the huge value and business benefit that a company like Fidelity could get from a returner programme. I also felt quite passionately about it from a personal point of view.  I have been a return to work mother, and been in a position where I’ve been out of work myself and looking to make a slight career change.  It was very difficult for me to break back into the sector, until I approached an old client of mine who was willing to help me.

Q. What do you see as the business benefits?
A. There are several big business benefits. Firstly, to improve gender diversity. Financial Services can sometimes have a reputation of being a male-dominated environment. We chose the technology area as a pilot for our returnship programme, because sometimes we find it challenging to recruit women into those roles. Fidelity International has signed up to the Women in Finance Charter, which is a UK Government initiative to encourage more companies to report on their gender balance at a senior level. The returner programme is one of the initiatives that will help us reach our goals.
From a more specific recruitment perspective, Fidelity International has some offices outside of London, and it can sometimes be a challenge to find candidates with niche skills that are local to us. However, we've found this can also be a massive selling point for returners. Lots of people had a career entirely in the City but don’t want to do that anymore. They want a job closer to home that offers more flexibility, but still offers an interesting and challenging place to work. 
Finally, we operate in a very competitive environment, and the experienced hire candidates we interview can sometimes be interviewing with other firms. We always want to explore any avenue to open up new pipelines of candidates for us.

Q. What are the challenges for Fidelity as a business to recruit returners directly? Why did you feel you needed a returnship?
A. If you look at the demographics of a lot of organisations, there can be an increased outflow of women compared to men. This can be for various reasons but many leave to start a family. It's a group that is then hard to reconnect with, who may feel that they are unable to come back. We wanted to promote that Fidelity is a company that supports people returning to work, and a returnship programme is a good way to do that.

Q. What were your impressions when you first received the applications for the New Horizons Technology Programme?
A. We were really, really encouraged, not just by the volume of applications we received, but by the quality. Lots of candidates who applied to us had a background in financial services.  Many also had a background in Technology although we didn’t say it was essential. There were relevant candidates that were local to our offices and we may have missed those in an ordinary recruitment cycle. This first impression was further corroborated on the assessment day when the hiring managers were blown away by the quality of the applicants that they saw. It was a really positive experience.

Q. How many people did you bring into the organisation on the Technology Programme?
A. We brought three people in. One went into an IT support role, another into risk, and the third into project management.

Q. What was the experience like for you as an organisation throughout and at the end of the programme?
A. It was a new programme for us and we were very honest about that from the beginning. I think the candidates appreciated our honesty because it was new for them too. The partnership with Women Returners was very helpful from the beginning as it enabled us to really think about the returners' on-boarding experience. We tried to connect them with as many peers and senior people within the organisation as we could, so that they got to understand who we were as a firm, what businesses we operated in and how we worked internally.  
We aimed to give the returners as much exposure, investment and help as we could. To help them feel supported, we had a review point midway through the programme, we had lunches and we encouraged them to attend a variety of talks. They were each assigned a mentor who provided support outside of their day to day team. We asked for their feedback at the end of the programme and were encouraged to hear that it was a great experience for them.

Q. How did the support from Women Returners fit in with the overall support programme?
A. Women Returners in my opinion offers a very high level of support from beginning to end, which complemented the support we also gave throughout the programme. Their coach gave a face to face briefing with the people who were going to be managing the returners. This was a really worthwhile exercise as they got to understand exactly how the programme was being setup and what their responsibilities were. Women Returners was also involved in the assessment day, where they led a workshop to make the candidates feel more at ease and confident in preparation for the interviews in the afternoon. They then hosted a series of workshops throughout the 20 weeks where they would come down to the offices and work through various training modules with the returners to provide a safe space to express any concerns they had. They acted very effectively as a conduit between ourselves as the employer and the returners as the employees.

Q. What have been the main challenges for you running a returnship programme?
A. That’s a tough one, no major challenges. The business was receptive to it and were very willing to get on board, so we didn’t have to win over anybody’s hearts and minds -  they were there from the beginning. 

Q. What have been the benefits for you as an organisation?
A. We have hired some exceptionally talented, committed returners who I know have had a really rewarding experience, and who have all been offered permanent roles.  We have increased the quality of our workforce by hiring these women, and that’s probably the biggest benefit to us, because any organisation is only as good as the people within it. Our talent is our most valuable commodity. 
There has also been a lot of positive external and internal PR around the programme. Returnships are very much in the media at the moment, talking about how hiring returners is good for the economy and everyone involved. It’s great to be a part of that and to show our employees that we are participating in these programmes.

Q. What has the reception been more broadly within the business?
A. It’s been very good. One of the testaments of that is that the programme has spread into other business areas. We started in Technology and we are now doing a programme within the Investments space. We are looking to scope out a programme in different business areas too. Alongside the successful permanent hires, the main success is that we have expanded the programme beyond its original pilot.

Q. What advice would you have for any other companies thinking of running at returnship programme?
A. Getting key senior level business sponsorship is really important. 
Understanding the type of roles that you want to bring people into is also key. Having a well-defined job description, and knowing what the final destination might be for the returner helps everybody have much more clarity around the programme. 
Making sure that everyone is on the same page, that’s not just an issue for these kind of programmes, it’s an issue for all kind of organisations. Get the right people in the room and get them agreeing on the same things and everyone can move forward with the same understanding.

Q. Are you planning to run future programmes, do you think this will become part of your annual recruitment?
A. I very much hope so. We have completed one programme and we are now into our second. It’s something we hope to continue with going forward. I thoroughly enjoyed working on it from a personal and professional point of view. It’s good to find something in your work that you are passionate about. It’s been a positive experience for me to be on this project, to drive it and to deliver it. 

Posted by Julianne