Getting back to work
How do women find their way back to work after a career break? A session at iRelaunch's London conference held yesterday at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists focused on the stories of four women.
All of them found their ways back through different routes and they emphasised that every working mum will have different issues to deal with when they return.
Rebecca Farmer is an accountant at Ernst & Young. She had twins and returned to work flexibly, working her way up the career ladder. She was going through the partnership selection process when her home life became completely unsettled. Her husband is in the RAF and was away from Sunday to Friday evening for a year. He was told he had to move job, but the family did not know where to. The children were showing signs of stress. Rebecca had two nannies in the space of two months.
“I felt I had to hand in my notice,” she said. Her employer was very supportive, however, and suggested she take six months out instead. It gave her the time to think about what was important to her and her family and how she could best manage work and family life.
She went back to work in November and three weeks later was presenting her case for partnership. She will learn the result in July. “I feel very passionate about women being able to work to their potential with a family,” she said.
Pauline de Robert Hautequere was an auditor in Paris before moving to New York to do an MBA. She then worked for three years in technology and internet start-ups. She was laid off at the end of her maternity leave and her visa was running out. The family chose to relocate to London to be closer to family.
“I hit a brick wall in my job search and decided to take a break,” she said. Seven years and two more children later she decided she needed to get back to work and took an MSc and a translation diploma. After networking on the internet, a student on her course emailed her to tell her his company was hiring and within three weeks she was starting a flexible job as a product manager.
Delanie Sinton had worked in the retail industry for 25 years, from the sales floor up to being a designer couture buyer and working in IT consultancy. When she was pregnant with her second child her husband was offered a job in London. She decided to take a career break and “embraced the mommy thing”.
While she was not in work, she was very active in community organisations, mainly for ex-patriate Americans like her. She was president of one networking group, managed 29 women, ran many events every month and had a website and newsletter. “I had been I work mode without realising it,” she said. When her youngest son started full-time school she started considering going back to work. She met a life coach who helped her to set her priorities. “I wanted to be able to do the school run and be active in the community, but I also wanted to do something a bit glamorous where I got to get my high heels out,” she said.
On her next newsletter she put a note about how she was trying to find a job. Four people responded immediately with job offers. After doing a part-time consultancy job for Burberry which she found exhausting and not very fulfilling [she was interested, however, in the fact that they were impressed by the volunteering work she had done and hidden at the bottom of her cv], she took up one of the job offers running a party plan business selling jewelry and has built up a team of 67 “stylists” or sales people. “I'm working 40 hours plus,” she said, “but that's because I want to and I have so much fun.”
Silke Collins-Tracey is a doctor and specialised in palliative care. She and her husband moved to Australia in 2002 and she had her children, now aged nine and six, there. She did some clinical research there, but she missed the contact with people and patients. She decided to retrain in business and applied for a one-year fellowship to do a masters in leadership and strategy at the London Business School. It was hard work and afterwards she took two and a half years out of work to be full time with her children until she became “a bit edgy” and decided she wanted to pursue her dream job of combining medicine and business by working for an international not-for profit organisation.
The ideal place to go to find work seemed to be Geneva and this also offered the outdoor lifestyle her family wanted. She started networking and emailed an organisation in Switzerland. She got no reply, but contacted them face to face and was asked to provide maternity cover for a position. At the end of that period she was asked to stay.
All four women said their main concerns on going back to work, or in Rebecca's case on deciding to take a career break, was the impact on their families. Pauline said she was also worried about “technological obsolescence”. Silke said that, even though she loves her job and was able to help her children to settle in Switzerland, getting a good work life balance is never easy and she still misses patient contact. “Everyone looks as if it is so easy to balance work and family life. They probably look at me and say look at Silke she is doing that very easily, but sometimes in quiet moments I admit that it is not that easy. However, it is a privelege to be able to do both,” she stated.
She added that she found social networking quite scary at first, but she found that if she approached people and asked them how they got their position and listened to what they had to say about their career path it was not so difficult. “You find that even the most straight-looking career paths can often be a bit curly,” she said.