Returners discuss their journey back to a fulfilling role

Women Returners’ annual conference heard from a panel of returners about how the right support and approach can help people who have taken a career break back to a fulfilling career.

Returner Programme


With the right support and attitude, those who have taken short or longer career breaks can get back on track, a panel discussion on the first day of the Women Returners annual conference heard yesterday.

The discussion with other returners was chaired by Trish Halpern, former editor of Marie Claire who has set up a podcast, Postcards from Midlife, with journalist Lorraine Candy since being made redundant.

The discussion shed light on returners’ journeys back to work and included women who had just got their career back on track as well as others who had been back for several years. Emma Noble, a solicitor from DAC Beachcroft, returned to work in the pandemic thanks to DAC Beachcroft’s returner programme and support from Women Returners. 

The whole process was remote. Working from home meant she had more work life balance, said Noble, but it meant she had had to make a conscious effort to connect with her colleagues. She now feels very much integrated in her team and says her break has allowed her to diversify into a new area – clinical risk work, having kept her skills up to date through reading legal publications and staying in touch with legal groups, for instance, on LinkedIn.

Vicki Gurney from M & G did a three-month returnship programme in 2018. The return to financial services Scotland programme was a cross-company initiative run with Women Returners and gave Gurney a network of other returnees to share her experience with. The programme also provided regular mentoring. She started slowly, but says that, as her confidence built back up, she was able to get back up to speed more quickly than she had thought. She then took another contract before getting her current permanent role as a business lead and project manager in early 2020. “Women Returners were very good at helping us to understand that it is a journey and you just need to take one stage at a time,” said Gurney.

Longer career breaks

For Ann Songco, a software analyst at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, the journey back took longer. She had also worked in financial services, but took a 15-year break. She said it was very challenging to find a route back, but eventually she got a coach through Women Returners who helped her get a sense of direction and focus and hone her strengths. “I was rudderless for a while so that was very helpful and boosted my confidence,” she said, adding that she completed relevant courses and qualifications and focused on networking to get the role she wanted.

Tina Sharp returned six years ago. She is now co-lead of the credit monitoring team at MV Credit, having previously worked in financial services for 20 years before being made redundant in her early 40s. Over the next 12-13 years she was able to spend more time with her children and took some consultancy roles as well as being chair of school governors at her local primary school. The latter involved hiring a new head teacher and overseeing a huge building project, skills which are very much transferable to an office setting. When her children were teenagers Tina heard Julianne Miles from Women Returners on Radio 4 and got in contact with the organisation who helped her get her present role. 

Asked what one piece of advice they would give others looking to return, the four women said that returners should not feel like an impostor, that they should look at a returnships as a journey and could consider keeping a diary of their motivations for returning to see how far they have come and develop their skills at delegating.

Sharp noted: “Don’t feel grateful that you have a job. You were recruited for a reason and have skills and experiences that employers want.”

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