‘Multiple careers are becoming the norm’

Women Returners’ annual conference brought together returners and employers keen to hire returners at a time when employers are needing to fill vacancies due to staffing shortages.

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There is no one way to be successful and having multiple careers is becoming the norm, a financial services leader told Women Returners annual conference this week.

Dame Anne Richards, CEO of Fidelity International, was giving the keynote presentation at the conference for those seeking to get back to work after a career break.

She talked about how her own career path. Her first degree was in electronics and electrical engineering and her first job was as a research fellow at CERN. She thought at the time that she would stay in academia, but she gradually began to realise that a career as an academic was not for her. She then spent a few years in technical roles before doing an MBA where she discovered and fell in love with the financial markets. It was not at all what she had expected. “It shows how your life path can change,” she said. Her first job in the City was as an engineering analyst and that was followed by a 30-year career, first as a portfolio manager in European equities, then as the leader of an equity team, followed by a stint as a chief investment officer and now as CEO.

Although she didn’t have a career break, her career path wasn’t typical, she said, which is why returner programmes are so important, adding that Fidelity International’s returner programme has been “a massive success” with most of those on it getting permanent positions at the firm. She spoke about one woman returner who had taken a break after being made redundant. During her 15-year career gap she became a homeopath and worked for a printing firm. Through a suggestion from her old boss she started looking at returner programmes and got in touch with Women Returners and that provided a stepping stone to her current role as a portfolio manager at Fidelity, supported by coaching from Women Returners. Five years later she is still there and the company has been able to benefit from all her diverse experience.

Richards advised returners to be curious, find the mentor or buddy they need and take time to understand the company they want to join. And she said that for businesses the rewards of providing support are many. She stated: “As leaders our first responsibility is to make sure that our organisations can propers in challenging environments. For that we need many diverse points of view. Diverse leadership teams deliver better business results. That starts with who we hire.”
And she added: “There is no one way to achieve a stimulating and successful career. Multiple careers are now becoming the norm and, as leaders, we should all embrace that.”

Back to work

Her speech was followed by a panel of returners, chaired by radio presenter Jane Garvey. They included Kim Aitchison, Senior Supervisor of the International and Retail Team at the Prudential Regulation Authority, which is run by the Bank of England. She had an unintentional 30-year break after her daughter developed severe food allergies. As the family expanded they moved country and she felt she needed to focus on her children. When she began to think about going back to work after her youngest started university she was overcome by fear and panic. She wondered who would want to hire her. She did a trial interview with a friend of a friend which went badly and she left feeling “completely useless” and then she found Women Returners and the Bank of England.

Yvette McLaren, recruitment coordinator at airline industry organisation Swissport North UK, has four children and was persuaded to take a career break because her husband travelled a lot for work and she was having problems with childcare. As her children got older she found herself needing something more to do so she joined her husband’s business, but discovered it was not really for her. So she went back to university. Her husband was then diagnosed with advanced cancer and she nursed him until he died. Yvette then joined a returner programme, suffered some knockbacks but was then approached by a head hunter and found herself back on a career path in a job which she believes she has brought a ‘thinking outside the box’ approach to. That and communication skills honed as a mum have led her to forge productive relationships with airports which have advertised airline roles and with other organisations that have widened the talent pool available to her, helping her to turn around a difficult staffing situation quickly and to expand her role.

Dr Meg Davies-Kabir is a child psychiatrist in South Wales. She qualified in 2008, but the family moved to Abu Dhabi for her husband’s work and she got a job as an airline doctor. Then she had her first child and, as there was no maternity leave in Abu Dhabi or part-time work, she took a nine-year career gap before separating from her husband and moving back to the UK. Like Kim, she thought no-one would want her after such a long break, but she spoke to other medical professionals, joined a Facebook group for medical returners and did a returner bootcamp and an unpaid clinical attachment which eventually led to her current position.

Julia McAleenan also spoke of suffering from confidence issues and imposter syndrome when she tried to get back to work. She took a break from a career in investment banking to look after her children and did some online courses to keep her skills up to date and retrained. Now a data scientist at dunnhumby, she said that she felt her skills had improved as a result of her career break. She felt less self-conscious about presentations, for instance.

Her children were quite young when she returned and her oldest, aged eight, was the least keen on her going back. However, her husband was the most affected, given her return to work involved a reallocation of household tasks and an adjustment period for everyone. Yvette said her youngest daughter had struggled the most because she was still grieving for her father and was still at university. However, she was a strong feminist and very proud of her mum and Yvette has since been able to advise some of her friends about their careers. Meg said that it had seemed almost selfish to work when her children were young since the family didn’t need the money. Now she is the main earner and her new partner is a stay at home parent, meaning everything has flipped. “I feel very lucky,” she said.


Several of the speakers said their confidence had come back once they were back at work and that having support through mentors and coaches had helped them get up to speed fairly quickly. They advised networking, asking questions, believing in yourself and valuing the skills you bring. Julia said she had used the Women Returners website as a resource to boost her confidence. Reading about other returners’ stories and connected to some of them online had helped motivate her when she had faced negative or no feedback from employers.

The conference also heard from leading employers – including J.P. Morgan, Amazon Lockers, FDM Group, the Civil Service and Moody’s Corporation – who run returner programmes and there were hands-on practical workshops to help returners resume their careers. It was suffused with an optimistic but realistic view of the current situation, with the cost of living crisis meaning many are feeling financial pressure to get back to work. Julianne Miles, CEO of Women Returners, said there are reasons for returners to be optimistic, for instance, the growth of returner programmes and the change that Covid has brought in terms of attitudes to flexible working. But she recognised there is still a long way to go to get more employers to recognise the value and benefits of hiring returners.

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