Start small, start now and think big

Helena Morrissey gave the keynote speech at this year’s Women Returners conference, advising women to start small, start now and think big.

Helena Morrissey


People who have taken a career break and are looking to get back to work should ‘start small, start now and think big’, Women Returners annual conference heard this week.

Baroness Helena Morrissey, chair of the Diversity Project which covers the investment and savings industry and founder of the 30% Club, gave the keynote address.

She said now was a good time to be returning as more and more employers are looking to hire returners and see women returners as a good way to address gender balance.

She spoke of a Diversity Project colleague who runs their returner work stream who networked her way back into work through emailing all her own contacts as well as those of friends and family. Morrissey said perseverance paid off. “Don’t feel embarrassed,” she said. “Just keep working through the list. If you keep going something will come up.” 

She said it was important to treat getting back to job like a job and to be open-minded. Her colleague was initially rejected for a role before being offered it when the employer’s first choice turned it down. It included additional management responsibilities which the woman had no experience of, but found she had a flair for. That role has led to her now managing a bigger team in a different job.

The Diversity Project’s returnship programme has grown since it started last year. It began with 11 returners and this year is working with seven firms to offer places to 20 returners. Eighty to 90% are expected to get permanent positions. Next year the aim is to work with 10 firm and increase the number of returners offered places. The Diversity Project also runs a supported hiring programme where it posts roles which might be suitable for returners on Women Returners site whenever they come up.

Getting back to work

Morrissey said that, although she had not taken a career break, she had had nine periods of maternity leave and knew what it was like to take time out and how women’s confidence might be affected. She said she ‘overcompensated’ as a result which caused her a lot of stress.

She offered the following tips: acting more confidently is a virtuous circle – others have more confidence in you and eventually you feel more confident yourself;  it’s important to consciously focus on the different perspective you offer through what you have learned in your time away from work as well as from your previous career experience; and look out for allies and mentors so you don’t feel alone.

She counselled not to stress too much about getting a good work life balance straight away. “Let it unfold gradually,” said Morrissey, author of the book Style and Substance, out in mid-October, about career success. “Don’t think about what might go wrong all the time. Think about the opportunities you have; think about the first step you have already taken [by attending the conference]. You are more likely to succeed if you think you can. Your skills, your experience, including the skills you have developed while you have been away, are valuable and are what employers want.”

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