Family-friendly rather than fulfilling work?

Why do our imaginations desert us when we’re considering our job options after a long career break? There are 949 job occupations listed in the O*Net database, yet there’s only one that is mentioned consistently in the career conversations I have with returning women: Teacher.

Some of you may be inspired by the day-to-day reality of creating lesson plans and motivating a class of schoolchildren. But from my experience, you’re in the small minority. For most women thinking about teaching, the strongest appeal is the long holidays and a belief that it will ‘fit with the family’.

Are you asking yourself the wrong question?

This isn’t the moment to go into the realities of teaching (which can be far from family-friendly as there is almost no flexibility about where and when you work). The point is that you may be starting with the wrong question. Rather than “What job is family friendly?”, ask yourself “What job will I find fulfilling and energising?”, then work out how you can make it family-friendly. Going back to work after a break is a wonderful opportunity to pause and consider what you really want to do: what motivates you, what do you most enjoy doing, what do you have a real pull towards? Do you need to retrain or can you create a role in your old field or something similar that fits with your family life.

Why is this important?

Working will inevitably make your life more complicated; the trade-off of work for family time needs to feel worthwhile. As I’ve mentioned before, research shows that satisfying work can make for a happier home life and give you more energy as a parent. If standing up in front of a class of 30 children day in day out brings you out in a cold sweat rather than brings a smile to your face, then you’re likely to feel drained and exhausted as a teacher and the long holidays will never compensate. This is not the route to work-family balance. And the same ‘Will it be energising for me?” test applies to any other positions you are considering.

Is it this a realistic strategy?

Our experience working with returners and the success stories on our blog demonstrate that flexibility can be found in a huge variety of sectors and roles. If you’re clear what you want,what you can contribute and the working pattern that will best suit you, then you are far more likely to find and/or negotiate a fulfilling role that gives you the balance you are looking for.

Is it time to consider a few of the other 948 occupations?

Posted by Julianne

Project 28-40 – What’s the news for returners?

You might have seen or heard the press coverage this week on the findings from Project 28-40, a report from Opportunity Now, the gender campaign arm of Business in the Community. It’s the largest ever study of women and work in the UK, with 25,000 responses.

The media focused on the difficulties women face with work in general and with combining careers and families.
But having read through the whole report, the pessimistic coverage doesn’t tell the whole story.  There is some ‘myth-busting’ with the recognition that women are just as ambitious and confident as men and actively seek opportunities to advance their careers.  At the same time, the message is that companies’ policies are often not effective in practice.  There is plenty more for employers to do to move women’s progression ‘from a diversity initiative to a core business priority‘. Recommendations include setting targets for numbers of women at each senior level in the organisation and ways to defeat the flexible working stigma.

We particularly like the call to ‘allow for non-linear careers – your top talent will have times in their lives they need to take a step back‘.

Hidden in the detail there is a practical recommendation for longer-term returners, that employers consider return(er)ships for women who’ve had a career break of 2+ years:

Returnerships offer a potential win-win solution for business and
women returners – women returning from a long term career break to work could
work for a fixed internship with the possibility of a permanent role at the
end, allowing both the employer and the employee to ‘try before they buy

We are delighted to have been asked by Opportunity Now to work with them to inform and persuade businesses to take up the returnship concept.  We will also continue to promote returnships in the media and through our networks and will actively publicise any new returnship programmes that are introduced.

You can also take the initiative and suggest an individual returnship to a potential employer, as a possible route back to work. You can read the example of Stephanie who created her own returnship to give you more ideas. Let us know of any successes you’d like to share.
Posted by Katerina

10 return to work tips from successful returners

We have recently launched our first ten return-to-work success stories on If you’re finding it harder than you thought to relaunch your career after a long break, reading real-life stories of women professionals who have successfully done so can be very encouraging. They both demonstrate that it is possible to find fulfilling work after a long absence and offer a great source of ideas and inspiration for how to do so.

We asked our story contributors for their tips for other women returners. These are some of their words of advice:

Finding a role

1. “Set aside your ego – think about the level of work that you’ll be doing in the job rather than the title”

2. “Think outside the box to find work that fits in with your family life – don’t define yourself too narrowly by what you did before”

3. “Prioritise what is important for you: what makes work worthwhile and what you want to hold on to in your personal life”

4. “Tell everyone you know that you are looking & don’t undervalue your friends and family as contacts. Bypass recruitment agents and go direct”

5. “Consider starting small and getting yourself and your family used to working before ramping up”

Starting back

6. “Buy some new work clothes so you feel you fit in and get a confidence boost”

7. “Don’t underestimate your ability to learn fast when you do return – you did it before and you still can now!”

8. “Don’t feel you have to know everything when you go back. Technology is changing so fast that people are always learning new systems … and you can always Google what you don’t know!”

9. “Don’t be ashamed of being a mother and your career break”

10. “Believe in yourself, be brave and give it a go!”

Posted by Julianne

Other related posts

Ideas for routes back to work
How do I find a high level flexible role?
7 tips for your return to work after a career break

Join us at the Work & Family Show

If you’re looking for more ideas and inspiration on returning to work, the first ever Work & Family Show might be just what you need.

It’s on February 21st and 22nd 2014 at the ExCel in London and will host speakers, panels and employers who are all there to help women to get back to work and to find more balance in their lives.  There will be practical sessions on childcare, flexible working, finding a job and starting a business as well as personal development sessions on image, the language of success and finding your balance.  There will also be debates on future family policy, negotiating role sharing and other aspects of family life.

Julianne and I are delighted to be the main speakers at one of the morning sessions (Personal Theatre, Fri & Sat) on Learn to Juggle and Ditch the Guilt. We will be looking at how you can help yourself to get more enjoyment out of your working and family life … identifying simple changes that you can make both to your thoughts and actions.  In this blog, we’ve already written about the destructive effect of guilt and about finding your balance and we’ll be developing these themes in our session.

If you’d like to come to the show, we have a couple of complimentary tickets to give away. To win one of these tickets, either send us some feedback on our blog/website (what you like, what you’d like us to add/change) or send us your return-to-work story to add to our success stories.  We’ll offer the tickets to the first people we hear from.

After our sessions we will be around for the rest of the morning, so please come to introduce yourself & ask us any questions – we look forward to meeting you there!

Posted by Katerina

Tips for a productive summer

With the final arrival of summer you might be thinking about
putting your return to work plans on hold until the autumn.  After all, nobody recruits during July and
August, do they?  While recruitment does
tail off during these months, there are plenty of things you can do to help you
move closer to your return, so that you are better prepared when autumn comes
around.  Your summer holiday can provide
an ideal time for reflection, organising and testing out your skills.  You might not be able to make use of all
these tips: it will depend what stage you have reached in your thinking and
preparation, but there are some that everyone could start.  But don’t think of these activities as homework!  You need to make the most of the opportunity to relax and have fun, so that you feel restored and ready for the next steps in your plan.
  • Create a network chart – while waiting to board
Although you might not be ready to start networking, it is
never too early to start creating your network chart.  I recommend you divide your chart into three
categories on which you list everyone you can think of: people who are easy to
call directly; people to whom you need an introduction; people you’d love to
meet but don’t know.  When adding names
to the chart remember people from different phases of your life: your past – your
school and university classmates as well as former employers, colleagues and
employees; your present – other parents (if you have children at school) and
people you meet through your voluntary work, hobbies or religious activity; your
future – members of alumni networks and professional associations that you could
join as well as people you’d possibly like to meet.  After the summer break, we’ll be continuing
our series of posts about networking so you’ll be able to make full use of the
chart you have created.  Keep adding to
this chart as you think of more people and as you start to connect, long after
the holiday.
  • Get clearer about what you might do next – on your
Whether you have too many choices or too few, a useful way
to think about what to do next is to think back to a work role (or part of a role) that you found
fulfilling and reflect on what made it so.
Was it a group of like-minded colleagues? An expression of your
creativity? Your own intellectual or personal growth? Your ability to make a
difference to others? Your experience of freedom and independence?  Whatever gave you fulfillment then will be
related to your deep values and will still be of great importance to you in the
future.  These elements will need to be
present in what you choose to do next, to give you the motivation to search
for it.  Time spent reflecting on your
values and the things you find fulfilling can also provide clues about what you
might like to do next.  You might discover
elements of a previous role that you can craft into a new one, you might
develop a business idea or you might realise that you want to retrain in
something which has previously interested you.
  • Practise your story – over drinks
Meeting people on holiday that you are often unlikely to see
again, provides a low risk way to practice telling your story, if you have created
one.  It gives you an opportunity to test
out a new answer to the dreaded question of ‘what do you do?’  It might even lead to a networking opening,
as I discovered when telling my story to the father of a family with whom my
family had shared a hot, dusty and uncomfortable beach buggy ride.  He turned out to be a partner in a big four
accounting firm and after the holiday introduced me to his head of HR, a great
addition to my network.
  • Start to fill in your LinkedIn entry – when you are home
LinkedIn will be an essential tool for you when you are
ready to return: it can bring you to the attention of prospective employers,
build your profile through the groups you join, alert you to advertised roles
and provide an additional way to network.
You can build it in steps, section by section and keep refining it as
you go, so working on it can easily be fitted into short gaps in your day.  If you have developed a story (and tested it
out on holiday) you can put this as your Summary.  Using your networking chart you can start to
build your connections.  You can explore
the groups and join the ones that look interesting. If you do a section a week,
by the end of the summer you could have a complete entry.
Have a good summer, rest and recharge.  I’ll be back in late-August.
Posted by Katerina

Mumsnet Workfest – advice for women returners

For those of you who were not at the Mumsnet Workfest last Saturday, these are some of the advice highlights we picked out for women returning after a career break.

Developing your confidence

Businesses value you for what you give to them. Be clear what you can offer and know your value and your USP. Fake the confidence if you don’t have it yet. Lorraine Candy, ELLE Magazine

Have confidence in yourself and believe that you have something to offer in the workplace. Know your skills and know what you bring. Karen Mattison, Timewise

Organisations to target

SME’s are more likely to be open to flexible working than the largest companies which use this option mostly to retain someone they don’t want to lose. Karen Mattison 
Some of the larger financial institutions and consultancies are leading the way in designing programmes for returners.  A recent example is Bank of America. Others include RBS, UBS, Citi, HSBC as well as KPMG and Centrica
Making contacts

Surround yourself with people who want to help you. Articulate what you want help with. Be specific. Nothing is stronger than personal recommendation. Karen Lynch CEO Belu Water

Applying for jobs

Don’t be put off applying for an advertised role because it states that it is full time.  If the employer wants you, you have an opportunity to negotiate for flexibility which can come in many forms.  Before you launch into negotiation, check out the culture of the firm and how it views flexible working and develop the business case. Karen Mattison
In your covering letter directly address any concerns about your career break, including how you have kept your skills and knowledge up-to-date and are the perfect candidate. Justine Roberts, Mumsnet

Testimonials are powerful – include with your CV. Amanda Mackenzie, Aviva

And generally …

Focus on your thing, the thing you are best at, and don’t get distracted by what others are doing. Thomasina Myers, Founder Wahaca

Posted by Katerina & Julianne

7 tips for your return to work after a career break

Did you miss Gaby Hinsliff’s inspiring article about ‘alpha-returners’ in Times2 on Tuesday 11th June: “Welcome to the World of the MumBack?” Lots of great  stories of women who have worked their way back up to senior positions in politics, academia and business after career breaks (it’s never too late – Professor Margaret Rayman had a 17 year break). The article featured my ‘Tips for getting back to the top” which I thought would be a useful to include here, with a bit more detail than was possible in the original.

Tips for
getting back to work after a long break
1. Value
your skills. For each of your past paid and unpaid roles, write down all the skills you used and make sure these come across clearly on your CV. If you remind yourself of your strengths and achievements you’ll start to feel more confident. And you’ll be surprised how quickly your confidence comes back once you get back into work. 
2. Don’t
limit your search to advertised jobs. Start with a clear idea of what you want to do, then work out how you can do it flexibly, as this will give you more options and is more likely to lead to a satisfying job.
3. Spread
the word. Women returning after a long break are most likely to find a job through their networks. Start with telling your friends, family and acquaintances what you would like to do. Get back in touch with old colleagues and student friends (LinkedIn alumni groups can be very useful here). Make new contacts by joining industry groups, attending seminars and conferences, or volunteering. Tips on telling your story here
4. Update
your industry knowledge and find out about current issues by reading articles, checking company websites and LinkedIn sites and talking to people in your sector.
5. Make sure
you are ready to go back. There’s no point trying to find a job while worrying
whether you are doing the right thing.
6. Don’t be
intimidated by technological change; a quick IT course, or any teenager, can
get you up to speed.

7. Remember
that you are the same capable professional you were before your break – you’re just out of practice!
And there are many other tips if you look around this blog, such as coping with lost confidence and guilt, and deciding what to do next. And if you look at our Women Returners website, you can read the stories of women who have successfully returned to work to find more about the different routes back. Do you have any other tips you’d like to share?
Posted by Julianne

Women’s Business Council – good news for women returners?

The barriers to women’s career progression are back in the news with the publication of a report by the Women’s Business Council (WBC), looking at ways of
maximising women’s contribution to economic growth and assessing priorities in
removing the barriers that women face in playing a full part in business and
the workplace.  But does it say anything
new and interesting for women returners?
And will anything change as a result?
What’s new?
headline of the report is that there are 2.4 million women who are not working
and who want to work.  So this is
a report seems to be about women returners, the first time this topic has been
approached so comprehensively.  It
probably helps that Ruby McGregor-Smith CBE, the Chair of the WBC herself took
an 18 month career break and is now CEO of a FTSE-250 company.
As you
might expect, the report addresses barriers to our careers from start to
finish.  It breaks its recommendations
down into four areas: broadening girls’ aspirations at school (Starting Out);
flexible working and other support for working parents (Getting On); women in
the ‘third part’ of their working lives (Staying On); and female entrepreneurship
aspects are new and of note:
The needs of women wishing to return to work
after a break are highlighted, along with support for parents who continue to
It is significant, I think, that there is not
yet a recognised term for the ‘third part’ of our lives: it is a symptom of how
invisible older women can feel.
So the
WBC must be applauded for bringing these dimensions into public debate and to
the attention of the Government.
Will anything change?
It is
hard to see how in these difficult economic times, the Government will do more
than it is already.  Indeed its response
to the report does little more than reiterate the actions it has already
taken.  What the Government does promise,
however, is to:
Lead by example in incorporating the WBC’s
message and approach in flexible working, as a major employer;
Appoint a business champion for older workers
and to work with existing bodies to develop new approaches for this group;
Provide better web-based support for women
entrepreneurs and tackle the belief that they are less likely to obtain banking
finance than men
For its
part, the WBC will meet every six months to monitor progress and will report in
one year on what has been achieved.
while the Government and business will be looking anew at women’s careers and
how to support them, the focus is mostly on continuing to do what they are
already doing for working women.  I fear
It might, therefore, take some time for the effects to trickle out into the
world of women returners.
What do you think of the WBC’s report
and the Government’s response? What measures do you think would make a
difference to you returning to work?
Posted by Katerina

Who am I anyway?

Many clients arrive at our first meeting with the same concern: they have lost touch with their professional identity and are only able to view themselves as partners or mothers.  Thoughts such as ‘I can’t do those things anymore’, ‘I don’t recognise my old self’, and ‘I’m not the person I used to be’ are regularly voiced.  For some women, the loss of identity is compounded by not having felt fully themselves in their professional life.  If your previous working identity has felt ‘fake’, then it is even harder to work out how you might wish to express yourself professionally in the future.  Other women recognise that their former working identity doesn’t fit with the life they now want to lead and are unclear how to create the new self.

According to findings from Dr Lynne Millward Purvis, women – particularly working women – undergo three ‘identity shifts’ when they become mothers. Before giving birth, we begin to feel increasingly invisible and undervalued as we prepare to go on maternity leave. After giving birth, we are forced to acquire a ‘mother identity’, which causes our goalposts to move. And if we return to work, we find we need to redouble our efforts as we seek to revalidate ourselves, both as employees and as mothers.  (Dr Lynne Millward Purvis, The Transition to Motherhood in an Organizational Context). Those of us who take an extended career break miss this opportunity to revalidate ourselves as professionals and as mothers within the familiar context of our former role.

Often the loss of the professional identity is expressed as a loss of confidence.  Indeed, recent research of 2000 women by the Association of Accounting Technicians (The Times, April 17, 2013) has indicated that women on maternity leave lose confidence after eleven months absence from the workplace.  So is it really surprising that women who take an extended break will lose their confidence?  (See post Where’s my confidence gone? for ideas on how to regain confidence).
My own experience of identity and confidence loss occurred when I arrived in my office after my honeymoon, to learn that my position had been made redundant.  Suddenly, I found myself with no professional identity, an unfamiliar surname and living in a new home that didn’t feel like mine.  It took me some months to find myself again and re-create my new, married, professional identity.

The process for regaining or re-crafting your professional identity involves reconnecting with your real interests and your values and articulating your skills and experience (even from long ago).  It is ultimately a rewarding experience as the emergence of a new professional identity is inextricably accompanied by a growing self-confidence.  Remember that you have already successfully changed identity at other points in your life (eg when you first started work or when took your break) even though that might have felt daunting at the time.  You will be able to do it again if you allow yourself time to adjust.

Posted by Katerina – co-founder of Women Returners

Is “having it all” a myth?

A quick ‘PS’ to Katerina’s post on Sheryl Sandberg et al…

Sandberg has dismissed
“having it all” as a myth: “Having it all is the worst. No matter how much we all have and how grateful we are for what we have, no one has it all, because we all make trade-offs every single day, every single minute”. This echoes the theme of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article “Why women still can’t have it all”.
It’s easy to become disheartened as a woman returner, thinking that if these high-achieving women can’t make it work, who can? In fact these comments say more about our confused definitions of ‘having it all’ than about whether anyone can be a fulfilled working parent.
‘Having it
all’ originally meant motherhood + career. Now we’re equating it to being at
the top of the career ladder and the perfect hands-on parent (and not making
trade-offs!).  Who set this impossible
In fact, Anne-Marie
Slaughter continued to work after she left her senior government job, returning
to her academic job at Princeton University to have more time for her two
teenage sons, and she has recently become President of the New America
Foundation. In the UK, Penny Hughes who resigned as president of Coca-Cola when
she started a family has developed a successful portfolio career as a
non-executive director. And away from the headlines, I know many professional
women (and men) who feel they have fulfilling careers and family lives. Most are not working at
the highest level (only a few exceptional people like Sandberg can manage that), but they are happy with the trade-offs they have made,
seeing them as positive choices to have time and energy for their personal life.
This sounds close to ‘having it all’ to me.

Posted by Julianne