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Getting back to work after a career break can be difficult, but a growing number of employers in a variety of sectors are beginning to understand that women returners are an important source of talent and are doing their best to attract them back.
One of the most recent initiatives is in the advertising industry. The Back2Businessship initiative is a programme run by PR firm Golin, media agency Starcom Mediavest Group and recruitment experts f1. It was started last year and this month holds its second programme.
Liz Nottingham, Group HR Director at Starcom Mediavest Group and one of the founders of the Back2Businessship initiative, said: “The initiative came into being because advertising was losing a lot of talent. Also I had a lot of friends who had decided to park their careers to have children and didn’t know how to get back to work. It was a mix of a business imperative and my own direct experience. I decided we needed to look at what we could do.”
She added: “When we did the first one last year the women had cvs which showed they were successful professionals with good track records. Somehow they had lost themselves in the middle.”
The programme, which runs for two days a week for four to five weeks from 10am-2.30pm, aims to reconnect them with who they were professionally. The first part of the programme aims to build self esteem and confidence, which is often one of the main issues for women returners. There is assistance with presentation skills and workplace practicalities, for instance, how to explain a career gap and how to negotiate a good salary. There is also a session on how marketing has changed in the last few years. This includes technical changes to the profession, for instance, the advent of digital advertising and social media. Nottingham says: “Women think the world has moved on, but things in the industry are really not a million miles from where they were when they took a break.”
The final session is on action planning, coaching and what to do next. The key part, for Nottingham, is the link with f1 who helped to find the 18 women taking part and also do all they can to help those women find placements after it has finished. “It’s highly practical and business relevant,” said Nottingham.
She has two children herself, now aged 22 and 19, and has been working three or four days a week for the last 19 years. She has had problems even though she has a good track record. “Because I work a condensed working week recruiters have told me things could be tricky finding work. That’s why I think the placement element of this initiative is so important because once employers see the skills a woman returner has it will be easier for them to find a permanent job,” she said. “It helps them to see the talent they might be missing. It’s not a programme for a programme’s sake. It’s about getting people through the door.”
Nottingham says advertising needs to adapt to attract and retain women. “There’s a lot of myths around that clients won’t like flexible working, for instance,” she said. “If they talked to the client they would see that they would rather have a good person on three to four days than not at all. They’d rather have a conversation about it. Many of those clients will have senior people who are not working five days a week. We need to dispel these myths. Talent is now so hard to find and keep that we need to change our mindset. We are only damaging ourselves by not doing so.”