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Working mums should be promoted on return from work rather than demoted, says a best-selling author.
Robert Kelsey [pictured] says that it is easier for women returners if they are more senior as they can delegate more and have more control over their diary. “It’s a leap of faith, but it’s the execution-type work that is more stressful as a working mum and more likely to lead to them dropping out, which is a huge waste of potential,” he says.
Kelsey’s latest book, The Outside Edge, is about how those who do not feel part of any particular group have been romanticised when in fact being an outsider is painful and difficult. The book deals with how outsiders can, nevertheless, succeed by honing the skills they have, such as creativity and thinking outside the box.
Unlike his other books, which he says focus on symptoms such as fear of failure, confidence and procrastination, this book looks at what he calls “the deeper malaise” which he calls “a feeling of tribal dislocation, the feeling that you do not belong for whatever reason”.
While gender may be a social barrier, that does not mean that all women are outsiders, even in male-dominated work environments, says Kelsey. Some women in a so-called man’s world may in fact be very much insiders, he says. He cites Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, who he describes as “a total insider” who has been operating within circles of power and influence all her life.
However, he says that feeling of belonging that insiders have can change within a person’s lifespan and working mums are a good example.
“Mums who return to work have often changed their perspective and values entirely. Many had not been outsiders before, but when they go back it can be discomforting and disabling and they may leave as a result. It’s not that the work is too gruelling. There is a disconnect between the world they have left and the world they are returning to,” says Kelsey. This is despite many of those mums being “some of the most ambitious people”.
“Often when they left education they had a plan which they pursued very strongly. But they often don’t have a plan for after they return to work. They have come off the rails.”
What they need, he states, is to first get a long-term plan by working out why they are going back to work [other than to pay the bills as this won’t sustain them mentally, says Kelsey, or help them to thrive]. With that comes questions about whether the workplace they are returning to is right for achieving the goals in their plan.
“They need to prioritise that plan,” says Kelsey, rather than focusing only on the urgent here and now stuff. “Often the long-term plan gets neglected, but if you start with that you will find a path.”
In his book Kelsey outlines how outsiders can forge “an edge” – a unique, often creative and dynamic outlook that, if honed, can lead to success. This can be through entrepreneurship, but Kelsey acknowledges that not everyone can set up their own business.
He says outsiders working within companies should focus on their personal goals. Companies can also open themselves up to a more open diverse workforce.
In the case of returning mums, Kelsey says they need to avoid seeing working mums as a problem and should develop long-term goals for employees returning from a break. “They should reacquaint women returners with the big picture and ensure the goals they develop together are in tune with that big picture,” says Kelsey.
*The Outside Edge by Robert Kelsey is published by Capstone, price £9.99.