Back to work with confidence


Joan Reilly took a career break after holding senior positions in advertising and was struggling to find a way back to work which would allow her to fulfil her work/home life ambitions. A returner programme helped her gain the confidence she needed to get back to work and she has just finished a four-month consultancy post at Save The Children International.

Before her career break, Joan held posts as senior account director at Wunderman and business director at GTB.

She returned on four days a week, to a busy role, a new culture and a longer commute due to a merger. She was the first person in her team to go part time, but though working four days, she was putting in five. She was offered the opportunity to run a global account which would require full time+ hours and travel. She decided instead to move sideways to a role in digital infrastructure which was more back end. When her daughter was about to start school Joan decided she wanted to take time out to settle her and support her wider family after a bereavement. She was out of the workplace for over three years and was keen to get back to work.

However, she says, being a parent had changed her perceptions and she was not sure she wanted to go back into advertising. She considered various options, including client side roles and the charity sector, but was unsure about how to open the right doors. Then she came across the Back2businessship programme. Set up four years ago to tackle the challenge of parents leaving the marketing, media & communications industry by founders Liz Nottingham, HR director at digital agency R/GA, and Amanda Fone, founder and CEO of f1 recruitment, the programme has to date helped 80 candidates re-join the workplace in permanent or flexible roles.

Since its early days it has grown and new partners include global communications consultancy Golin and Ali Hanan, founder of Creative Equals. It includes two weeks of mentoring, skills assessment and up-skilling, followed by a three-month paid ‘returnship’ with companies including long-term programme partner Golin, HP Inc. and Save the Children International.

Rebuilding confidence

Joan says: “You cannot underestimate what the programme offers.” That includes hearing from other returners, listening to people in the industry talking about flexible working and learning how to argue the case for flexible working. “It was about reminding ourselves that we were not on the shelf but quite valuable,” she says. In large part that was due to the calibre of the other returners. Many had begun the programme worried about not having the skills they needed for the digital age, but it showed them that technical skills can be learnt and that the core strategies and principles of the industry remain the same.

What’s more, those attending brought additional skills such as maturity, life experience and understanding. Joan says many had faced big barriers to get back to work, including recruitment agents who pigeonholed them and didn’t think laterally and employers who only advertised full-time jobs.

On the last day of the two-week programme, Joan attended a speed dating event set up by f1 Recruitment for candidates to meet with companies such as HP Inc., Golin and Save the Children International.   Save the Children International met with all the candidates and at the speed dating event they shortlisted their four favourites, including Joan. She was then interviewed. Joan says there was an immediate fit with their digital requirements and her digital experience. Additionally, the role on offer presented her with some new challenges, not least a new sector but also working client side and being in a communications department. She did a four-month contract working on a research proposal on digital communications. Joan says the organisation is very flexible and when she arrived she was given all the tools she needed to work flexible. “They treat people like adults who can manage their own time,” she says. She began in February and in June took the summer off to spend time with her daughter. She is in talks with Save The Children International about returning.

She still keeps in touch with the people on the programme via a whatsapp group and they meet regularly to share contacts and experiences. “That is perhaps the most valuable aspect of the programme,” says Joan. “The programme covers the whole industry, unlike other returner programmes that are focused on a specific company or job. It is much broader. It gives you the tools and confidence you need to get back to work and shows employers the kind of talent that is available if they are a little more creative. Anyone who is thinking of returning on it should sign up.”

*Back2Businessship will be running a speed-dating, interview-style event on Thursday 16th November for employers to meet this year’s returners face to face. It runs from midday for 90 mins at R/GA London. Employers in media, marketing and comms who want to find out more about attending the speed-dating event should contact [email protected]

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