When life speeds up .. slow down

It’s that manic run-up-to-Christmas time again: finishing off the year’s projects, fitting in school end-of-term events, making holiday arrangements and somewhere in-between finding presents and writing cards. If your To Do list is feeling overwhelming, you can best reduce your stress levels by acting against your natural instincts …

Pause and Breathe

  • Resist the urge to race around and do three things at once; instead consciously slow your pace and focus on doing one thing at a time. Often we pride ourselves as Queens of Multi-tasking, and a whirlwind of activity can feel productive. However cognitive research has found that it’s far more efficient for our brains to focus on just one task – we tend to complete it faster, better and with less energy (here’s the science behind it, if you’re still sceptical: Multitasking Switching Costs).
  • Rather than not stopping from the moment you wake in the morning to the moment you collapse at night, take 5 minutes once or twice a day to sit quietly, slow your breathing down and do nothing (yes, not even checking your emails). Our minds need time to recharge, otherwise our energy gets more and more depleted until we reach collapse point. Even a short pause can break this cycle.
You can build these actions into habits through regular practice. This will enable you to better manage your energy levels all year round, at home and at work – these tips aren’t just for Christmas!

Season’s Greetings

Thank you for following our Back to your Future blog. We hope that we
have been a source of advice, support and inspiration to you this year.

We’re taking a festive break for a few weeks and will be back in the New Year!

All Best Wishes for 2016 from The Women Returners Team

Posted by Julianne

Dipping your toes in the social media pool

Today we introduce Muriel Clark who will be a regular contributor to our blog. Muriel has joined Women Returners as our Digital Media Expert, following her own career break. She will be managing many of our online communications from now on and we are delighted to have her on our team.
After a 4 year career break and no Facebook, Instagram,
Pinterest or Twitter accounts, I felt out of touch with social media platforms.
While I was contemplating returning to work, I realised I had to do something.
I had to jump in. So I embarked on a mission to familiarise myself with social
media and develop a professional credible online profile.
If you are looking to get back to work and are Twitter shy or
LinkedIn adverse, fear not, you can teach yourself a few basic things that
really can help to kick start your career.
Before you start, it is worth assessing your online presence
by “googling” yourself. Potential employers will check your online credentials.
With this in mind, and if you have been prolific on Facebook with personal
matters, consider removing inappropriate posts.
LinkedIn and Twitter are the best tools for building your
professional network and staying current with relevant information. Start by
building your profile on LinkedIn. This can be daunting, but start with a
skeleton of your CV, an outline of your career, your interests, education and
volunteering experience. Read our previous blog for details on how to set up your profile, develop your
network and job search on LinkedIn. Your new network will be invaluable for job
searching, gaining references and endorsements and getting introduced to new
Twitter is another useful platform to rebuild your
professional network. I know what you are thinking. What shall I tweet about?
Well, you do not need to tweet to get started; you can adopt a rather passive
approach that will show your areas of interest and more importantly keep you
abreast of real time news on topics, individuals and organisations that you
have carefully chosen. You can be a follower (on Twitter that is) and that’s
fine for now.  Look at potential employer
campaigns, find out about their current issues, research topics related to
women returning back to work and employment diversity. Follow your favourite
publications. Once you are confident, you can start “retweeting” useful information.
And if you get the twitter bug, you might start tweeting your own thoughts
before you know it.
Social media is not rocket science. Embrace it as little or
as much as you want. You can make the most of social media without having to
post something groundbreaking every 5 minutes. It is about embracing an
effective medium to revive your career by growing your network and uncovering a
new world of opportunities, sharing content as you see fit and not falling into
a pool of information overload.
As for me, I have gained confidence and expertise in social
media by doing the above and completing courses which were paramount to revive
my career in marketing communications. I was lucky to be part of the Back2BusinessShip
course (sponsored by Golin, Starcom Mediavest and F1), an excellent programme
for women wanting to go back to their PR/Media/Marketing/Communications careers.
I have completed comprehensive social media online courses (more on courses in
a future blog). And thanks to my expertise in social media and refreshed
marketing communications skills, I have recently joined Women Returners as their
Digital Media Expert.
Posted by Muriel

Anticipating the empty nest

Last month my youngest child turned 18 and I suddenly found myself in the position of being a parent of two adults. While this has been a long-anticipated state, my focus has been on my daughter’s multiple celebrations not what her new adult status meant for me. Now, as she prepares to follow her brother to university next year, I am finally contemplating my empty nest.

In reality, I’ve been preparing myself for this stage since my children were born. Indeed, it was the fear of facing the prospect of an empty nest which ultimately propelled me into action with returning to my career, along with my desire to make a difference to society in some tangible way. When I retrained as an executive coach eleven years ago, I didn’t have a clear idea of where I would be going with my new qualification or how I would rebuild my career. But I was clear that I wanted to be engaged in work where I could lay foundations for a time when I would be freer to focus more on my own work than my family responsibilities.

My return to work was small scale at first. I was content to work with just a few clients and to continue to put the majority of my energy and focus into my family. As I gained experience (and with it confidence in my abilities) and my children grew up, I actively sought more clients and even accepted the occasional overseas assignment. Self-employment allowed me to forge a new career while retaining the parental role I wished to have. At the same time, it hasn’t always been easy and I had plenty of self-doubts along the way. The next major step I took in building up my work role was co-founding Women Returners, which has unintentionally provided another buffer to the empty nest effect. Our business and network are rapidly expanding, with the time and energy commitment that entails, as my involvement with my children’s lives is decreasing.

If you’re also motivated to return to work by the looming prospect of the empty nest, the good news is that there are many more routes back to work than existed even 10 years ago, with the arrival of returnships and our innovative supported hiring approach. Companies and government are also acknowledging that returners are a neglected population who have skills, training and experience which are valuable. If you are seeking ideas and inspiration for how to return to work before your children fly the nest, take a look at the success stories on our website and the blog posts in our advice section.

Posted by Katerina

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

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 womenreturners.com 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. jane.price@xx.com).
  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

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

12 Tips for Women Returners from Mumsnet Workfest

For those of you who were not able to join us at the inspiring Mumsnet Workfest event last Saturday, these are some advice highlights from the keynote panel for women returners.

Clarify your boundaries

1. When you return to work, be clear about where the line in the sand is for you to make it work. Sara Bennison, Marketing Director, Barclays

Make work, work for you

2. Disentangle being present [in the office] from being effective. Sara Bennison, Marketing Director, Barclays

3. Be clear about your red lines and explain how you will still do your job. Work out what are the things you need to do, to do it differently. Jo Swinson, former MP and Business and Equalities Minister

4. Success at work is about productivity, not bums on seats. Karen Blackett, CEO MediaComUK

Network & target employers

5. Your network counts, it really is [often] who you know, not what you know. Sara Bennison, Marketing Director, Barclays

6. Make a personal connection when you’re applying to a company [to avoid sending your CV into the wilderness]. Shami Chakrabarti, Director Liberty

7. It’s a better use of your time to send 3 well-researched letters to a company [than scattergun job applications]. Jo Swinson, former MP and Business and Equalities Minister


8. Pick the bits that matter to you [at home & work] and drop or delegate the others. Gaby Hinsliff, Journalist & author of Half a Wife

Be yourself

9. Be authentic in what you do. Authenticity is the key to success. Karen Blackett, CEO MediaComUK

Be confident

10. Having a child is the most difficult and important thing you do. If you can look after a child you can do anything. Shami Chakrabarti, Director Liberty

11. It does come back, it is still there in your brain. It will be fine, it will come flooding back to you. Jo Swinson, former MP and Business and Equalities Minister

Get support

12. Ask for help from other mums to make it work. Find cheerleaders in your organisation to help you with flexibility. Karen Blackett, CEO MediaComUK

If you’re London-based & regret missing our Workfest session on kick-starting your return to work, do look at the other return-to-work events we have coming up this month: wrpn.womenreturners.com/events/ 

Posted by Katerina

What role does image play in supporting your return to work?

One area that can be neglected when thinking about your return to work is how to present yourself in a way that reflects the image you want to convey.  If you’ve been out of the workforce for some time, you might have questions about what exactly ‘business wear’ looks like today.  And you might be uncertain about the styles and shapes which suit you best.  Business and Career Coach, Natalie Hunter, explains how getting your image right can boost your return to work confidence.
Returning to work after a significant
break can induce a whole range of emotions. On the one hand it can feel
daunting and tap into our darkest self-doubts. On the other hand, we might feel
excited and reawakened at the prospect…possibly all of those things and more.
I’ve taken a few breaks during my
career, one to go travelling and two maternity leaves. I clearly remember the
mixed feelings of returning: disorientation, anxiety, pressure to make a good
impression, optimism, engagement and liberation – at least for a while – from
the daily demands of domesticity. As it turned out, my last return was on 9/11
and any fears I had on that occasion were soon eradicated by more important
It feels trivial to talk about the
importance of image after that, although, rightly or wrongly, we do judge each
other on appearances and make all kinds of assumptions: How professional is
she? How smart? How contemporary? How creative? How well organised?
I’ve been involved in many an interview
over the years and listened to the hiring manager’s comments afterwards. Appearance
is often on the agenda…and it’s not always flattering.
Like many people, when I’m facing the
unknown I try to focus on the aspects of the situation that I can control. In
terms of returning to work, one of these things is appearance.
Image, of course, is no substitute for
competence. I want to be known primarily for the quality of the work that I do,
not how I look, although if I feel confident that my appearance will create an
authentic and favourable impression, that’s a bonus. Paying a little bit of
attention to understanding what makes us look our best frees up our time and
attention to focus on the content and quality of our work.
Some of your original working wardrobe
might still work for you, although even classic styles can look dated – the
fashion industry is very clever at getting us to keep buying more! Perhaps your
body shape has changed and the styles you once relied on no longer seem to
work. Colour has an amazing capacity to make us look radiant or drab. This
doesn’t mean you suddenly need to start wearing lots of strong, bright colours,
it’s just about understanding what depth, brightness and tone of colour works
best for you in the context of what would be appropriate for your potential working
I love style and colour and how they
transform the way we look, but I don’t enjoy spending huge amounts of time and
money on expensive, sometimes torturous, grooming procedures or lengthy
shopping trips! In my book, anything that can make life simpler, calmer and
lower-maintenance is to be welcomed.
Being able to edit a shop floor with a few quick glances, for example,
or quickly pick the right outfit for the occasion, saves precious time and
energy.  Knowing what to look for helps
avoid expensive mistakes or those ‘fashion over style’ disasters that stare reproachfully
at you from your wardrobe.
Investing a few hours to explore how
your image can support your career aspirations can make all the difference in
helping you to feel confident and make a positive impression. Once you
understand what suits you and why, you can make confident choices and always
look your best.
By Natalie Hunter, Women Returners associate, Business & Career Coach, Image Consultant and Leadership Development Consultant

Challenging the stereotypes about returning professionals

This week I wrote an article for the Guardian Women in Leadership challenging the stereotypical views of women returners and urging employers to recognise the strong talent pool they are overlooking:
My aim was to highlight & question the attitude of so many corporate employers who reject those of you with a long CV gap purely because of their unconscious biases, in particular against women without recent experience. I hoped that it would make at least a few hiring employers question their stereotypes and be more open to considering returners as a result.
It has been great to see how this message has been spread on social media. The article has been shared nearly 1200 times around the world and picked up by Hearst Women who wrote a supportive piece:
Sharon Hodgson MP wrote on Twitter “As a returner I went on to become an MP! A career break should not be a career end!”
If you are one of the women experiencing rejection through conventional recruitment routes, we hope that the article does not make you feel more dispirited, but helps you to understand that it is not your personal failing – many other people are in your position. Remember that there are other ways to find a fulfilling business role, in particular using your network and building experience through freelance, voluntary or temporary roles. There are also increasing numbers of business employers who want to use returnships to bring you back.
We will continue to champion the abilities of returning professionals, to change employer perceptions and create routes back to fulfilling work so a career break is seen as a pause not an end to a corporate career.

Posted by Julianne

Returning to work after international relocation: culture, language and identity

to work after a career break is challenging enough in itself. I know from my own
experience of living in 4 countries in 30 years that when you are from a different
country, you face a range of additional complexities, some being connected to culture,
language and identity. The more you can gain
clarity on these issues, the easier it becomes to turn these cultural and
language differences to your benefit when returning to work.
spent most of my adult life in various countries outside my home nation, I
feel that clichés and stereotypes, although unfortunate, cannot be ignored from
either side. For instance, one of my English colleagues shared with me as I
arrived in the UK, that French people are perceived here as arrogant. Although
it was a shock to me, as I would have never perceived us French as arrogant, it
helped me understand what image we can give in the UK. So it will be useful to
you to understand how locals perceive your culture, as much as what you truly
think of those living in your host country.
Practical tips: if you are new to the
country, take every opportunity to attend workshops on cultural differences. If
you have been around for a while do investigate sensitively how your culture is
seen locally, reflect on how you experience your own culture for yourself; and be
open to conversations about cultural differences.
English is not your first language and you are reading this, your language
skills are already strong.  If you are
relocating to a country and you do not speak the local language, there is only
one single piece of advice: it’s worth putting in the effort needed to learn
that language. It could take time for you to feel confident so if need be, make
this learning quite formal and put in the resources (group or private lessons,
intense homework etc).
to return to work when you do not speak the local language is a challenge.
However I understand that in some cases, language structures and sounds are so
different from what you are used to (e.g. for a European moving to China or
Japan), that the effort might just be too much to take on. In such cases, my
advice is to improve your English (if it is not your first language) and to look
for opportunities in multinational companies or ways to offer your services to
the expat community.
is a wider topic than just culture and language. But there is a connection. If
as a ‘trailing spouse’, you had to reluctantly give up a professional career,
you are likely to have had your identity shaken in various ways at the same
time: cultural, personal and professional. You will have experienced some loss
and will need to recreate a balance and to invent a fulfilled new you.  Take action to create a satisfying life for
yourself or you risk building resentment against your partner.
Practical tips: spending time
acknowledging what is going on for you and what you need to create a balanced
life is not wasted time: it is building precious self-awareness.  Sharing how you feel helps others understand you
while asking for advice from those who have been there before you helps you
realise that “it’s not you, it is the situation”. Getting support could be your
best next step, whether through a buddy, a social network or a professional
such as a coach.
you pay attention to all three areas, culture, language and identity, as you
investigate your return to work options, it will make your choices clearer and
your decisions easier.
by Claire d’Aboville, a Women Returners associate, a multi-lingual and
multi-cultural Executive Coach and founder of Partners in Coaching http://partnersincoaching.com/Welcome.html