Back to work with confidence

Going back to work after a few months or a few years off to look after children can be tricky. talks to a trainer who has set up a new course to help women overcome some of the difficulties.

Going back to work after a few months or a few years off to look after children can be tricky. There are all the practical issues to consider – how to fit work round family life in a way that is manageable and how to find suitable [and affordable] childcare. But one of the main hurdles to overcome is confidence.
After months out of the workplace doing something entirely different and all-encompassing the office can seem like alien territory. Technology has often moved on apace and, particularly in the last few months of economic upheaval, there may have been all sorts of changes in your organisation or industry.
The challenges faced by women returners are beginning to be recognised by some organisations, but such moves come at a time when everyone is finding it difficult at work. Women are asking whether there is anything they can do themselves before they set foot back in the office in addition to using Keeping in Touch days to visit the office while they are on maternity leave.
One way of preparing is through networking with other women and going through the main issues returning to work throws up. Andrea Duffy and Angela Anderson are pioneering a course which aims to deal with these.
Entitled Reconnecting to the Professional You, it is being held at The Institute in East Finchley, London, on 13th February. Andrea and Angela hope that it will be the first of many. “It’s exciting and we don’t think there are publicly available courses around that really address the specific issues women face in going back to work after having children,” says Andrea.

Negotiating skills
In addition to confidence building exercises, the course deals with areas such as conflicts of interest on return between doing a good job and being there for your child, building negotiating skills so you can ask for the kind of package that makes it easier to find a work life balance that works for you. “Every individual’s circumstances are different, but there are issues they share,” says Andrea, adding that networking with other mums will also help. “Some want to get back to work, others feel pressurised because of the economic situation. Some want to go back part-time and others feel that being a full-time mother is not enough for them.”
There are exercises which aim to show women the kind of transferable skills they have built up through having and looking after children. “We want to help women identify and appreciate the skills they have learnt while they have been away from the workplace,” says Andrea. “It is easy for women to overlook these and to spend days or weeks feeling you have achieved nothing except getting up and keeping your child alive, but you are actually achieving a lot. Skills such as the attention to detail that parenting requires and multi-tasking can be brought into the workplace. It is traditional in the UK not to support parents and to undermine the skills parents have, but lots of things you learn as a parent are very useful in many places.”
She adds that, while it has been a slow process, employers are beginning to “wake up” to the fact that people acquire vital skills through parenting. She welcomes proposals for fathers to share paternity leave with mothers, just announced by the Government, saying this can only increase awareness of the value of parenting skills for the workplace and will mean the childcare onus is not always on the mother.
Andrea says that another reason women’s confidence may be low is that they may have become fairly established in their careers when they have children. Being a mother, she says, is like starting a new job. “Suddenly you’re a beginner all over again and you don’t have a clue what you are doing. You may feel isolated at home and that what you are doing is not valued.”
The course’s confidence building exercises will include creative visualisation, exploring particular scenarios and group and pair work. “We are not interested in putting people on the spot or making them feel under scrutiny,” says Andrea. “It’s all designed to be very practical.”
The course, which runs from 10am-4pm and costs £40, will also include exercises aimed at encouraging women to assert themselves more in negotiating the way they want to work on their return, whether that is part time hours or flexi-time. “It’s about having the confidence to negotiate what you want and show that you are willing to meet your employer half way,” says Andrea. The course will include possible scenarios with an employer. “Many women feel they cannot ask for what they want and then feel stuck in a situation which doesn’t work for them,” says Andrea. “Taking shorter lunch breaks so you can leave earlier or working a day from home can make a massive difference and women may be surprised that their employer is willing to listen. Inevitably there is an element of compromise, though, and you need to know how to address this.”
Andrea, an experienced trainer who also works as an actor and in publishing, knows from first-hand experience about the issues around returning to work. Her daughter, Olive, is one. As she was working freelance, Andrea had to go back to work pretty quickly, first to an acting job and then to working from home on a book project. This presented its own problems with regards to childcare as her hours can be flexible.
Her daughter is in nursery three days a week, but can do extra days if required. However, Andrea has to continue to pay for the three days at nursery even if she doesn’t work those days in order to maintain her place.
She met Angela, who is an experienced trainer, 13 years ago while working in the publishing industry. She states: “The title of the course says it all. It’s about reconnecting with the strong, intelligent capable you, who has taken time out.”

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