•  Who are your best return-to-work supporters?

    Who are your best return-to-work supporters?

    What do we normally do when we’re thinking about making changes in our lives? Our natural instinct is often to talk things through with friends and family – to get their opinion and test out our ideas. I remember many mornings spent discussing future plans with other mothers over coffee when I was on career […]

  • How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

    How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

    Over the years that I have been working with returners, I’ve noticed how many women make the same job search mistakes that can completely derail their return to work. To stop you falling into the same traps, here’s my summary of the Top 10 and a few tips on how to avoid them. 1. Relying […]

  • Re-connecting with your professional self

    Re-connecting with your professional self

    One of our top tips for women returners is to remember that you are the same professional person you always were, you are just out of practice. But why is it that you need reminding, and how do you gain back that easy confidence that you used to have in the past? Let’s have a […]

Working Mums - Finding your work / life blend in 2015

Working Mums – Finding your work / life blend in 2015

If you’re returning to work in 2015 after maternity leave you might be understandably worried about the prospect of juggling work and your new life at home. Hopefully help is at hand! Last year working mum Anna Rasmussen launched a research project called Keeping Women In. Anna asked 250 high potential working mothers to tell us about their lives inside and outside of work. She specifically asked the women what they needed their employers to do to support them to reach their full career potential after having kids. The results of Anna’s research are based on the concept of achieving an acceptable work / life blend.

Her research is full of simple, effective tips for businesses (and bosses) to support working mothers. You can download a free summary report and also watch this short video

One of the key findings of Keeping Women In was that 80% of the potential solutions to help support working mothers relate to leaders and individual bosses. Just 20% relate to the wider business. Here are some examples of top tips for both:

Tips for leaders managing working mothers:

  • Openly talk to your working mothers about their home lives and discuss any specific challenges they face eg. childcare, school holidays, current workload and working in the evenings
  • Set clear objectives and career plans
  • Recognise merit and contribution over presenteeism
  • Acknowledge hours worked outside of the office and provide recognition
  • Openly communicate career opportunities and provide encouragement and support to move to the next level

Tips for the wider business for managing working mothers:

  • Offer a condensed working week in school holidays, flexibility to work from home if needed or emergency child care support
  • Ensure effective technology is in place to support remote working
  • Develop a culture that supports high achieving working mothers
  • Organise company family days
  • Encourage company networking and mentoring so that high achieving working mothers receive exposure to senior figures within the business

Implementing small changes can make a huge difference to the over-all well-being of working mothers and this in turn impacts productivity and retention.

I’ve had the privilege of working personally with Anna on this project and have seen first-hand the positive steps working mothers and their employers have taken as a result of it. Hopefully you will find it equally inspiring.

We are determined to continue to support working mums in 2015! As such, we going to be running a series of webinars over the next few months to give even more insight into our Keeping Women In research findings and we need real working Mums – people like you to get involved!

KWI_Logo_green_blend.
Anna photoAuthor: Alexa Garthwaite, supporting the marketing of the researcher: Anna Rasmussen. Anna works with organisations to attract, engage and retain female talent. She has developed the app Open Blend which facilitates interactive coaching sessions between a business leader and a working mother. If you would like to be added to the mailing list for further updates about Keeping Women In, including webinar details, please email alexa.garthwaite@guidantgroup.com – She would love to hear from you

 Who are your best return-to-work supporters?

Who are your best return-to-work supporters?

What do we normally do when we’re thinking about making changes in our lives? Our natural instinct is often to talk things through with friends and family – to get their opinion and test out our ideas. I remember many mornings spent discussing future plans with other mothers over coffee when I was on career break.

It can be useful to chat about your return to work ideas – setting up a business, returning to your old field, retraining, or whatever your inspiration may be. As you speak about your thoughts, this can help them to become more concrete and move you to action.

But this can also be a risky strategy as your trusted friends might not be the supporters you need to develop your fledgling ideas. If they pour cold water on your tentative plans, this can be a major knock to your confidence, raising more doubts and worries in your mind and stopping you moving forward to action.

These are some reactions potential returners have told me they received:
From other at-home mums: “What do you want to go back to work for – you’re so lucky to be able to be at home?”
“I can’t imagine having the energy to work. All the working mums I know are exhausted”
From family & ex-colleagues: “I never saw you as a [creative person / entrepreneur / mature student ..]”
From partners: “Well, if you’re absolutely sure that’s what you want to do …”
“If you think you can manage that and the kids without getting too stressed …”

There’s a big difference between these generalised negative comments, which can make you want to give up, rather than helpful specific questions that encourage you to reality check your ideas. If you’re facing comments like these, rather than simply taking them at face value, it’s worth putting them in context. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Your friends who are also on career break may want to keep you ‘on their team’. They don’t want to lose you to the workplace!
  • Your plans to return to work may raise doubts in their minds about the decisions they’ve taken. When we experience ‘cognitive dissonance’, where our actions don’t directly align with our beliefs (eg I should be using my education but I’m not in paid work), we feel uncomfortable. They may subconsciously try to convince you that it’s too hard to be a working mother to prove to themselves that their decision is correct.
  • Your ex-colleagues tend to define you by the role you used to have. This is similar to the cognitive bias called ‘functional fixedness’ where we find it hard to see familiar objects in a different light. Which is a real advantage if you’re returning to the same field, but limiting if you’re considering a new direction.
  • Growing up within a family we all often have set roles (the smart one, the creative one etc). If you’re stepping into a sibling’s role, they may feel challenged or disorientated.
  • Your partner and children naturally will prefer the status quo if it’s comfortable for them. Accept they may not be your cheerleaders initially at least!

To balance the naysayers, think about creating a group of return-to-work supporters:
1. Identify & seek out friends and family members who are encouraging and positive and fill you with a sense of possibility
2. Partner with one or more women who are also looking to return to work
3. Seek out a mentor – find a woman in your field who has successfully returned after a career break and ask for advice.

As our network grows we’re thinking about setting up a return-to-work support group. Also a number of successful returners have offered to be to mentors. Would you find either of these useful? In what format (eg.LinkedIn)? Let us know in the comments below or on info@womenreturners.com.

 

julianne&katerinaAuthor: Julianne Miles, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

Improve your return-to-work confidence by building your self-efficacy

Improve your return-to-work confidence by building your self-efficacy

It’s often reported that women’s self-confidence plummets during a career break. A recent study* found that women on maternity leave start to lose confidence in their ability to return to work only 11 months after giving birth.

The problem with labelling return-to-work doubts as a ‘confidence issue’ is that we use the same explanation for a wide range of setbacks that women face in the workplace: from presentation nerves to not putting ourselves forward for a promotion or (as Sheryl Sandberg would say) ‘not taking a seat at the table’. It’s become too much of a general catch-all.

I would suggest that we need a different term to describe the (often extreme) self-doubt that women can experience when they consider returning to the workplace after a long time out. This is the doubt that stops you even believing that it’s possible to get back into a satisfying role .. the doubt that made a highly talented MBA with 15 years’ experience say to me after her 6 year break “I’m a write-off – no-one will want to hire me now”.

Self-Efficacy

From a psychology perspective, what you’re experiencing in this situation is better termed “low self-efficacy”. The psychologist Albert Bandura described self-efficacy as a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. If you have low self-efficacy about getting back to work, then you feel less motivated and behave in negative ways that make you less likely to achieve your goal; you see barriers as insurmountable blocks rather than challenges to overcome, you lose focus and interest more quickly, and you struggle to pick yourself up again when you hit an inevitable setback.

Building Self-Efficacy

The encouraging thing about self-efficacy is that it’s not fixed – there are specific ways to boost it. Bandura identified four key sources of self-efficacy, three of which are within your control and the other you can influence:

1. Mastery

Performing a task successfully through hard work and effort improves self-efficacy. If you haven’t worked for many years, you will feel ‘rusty’. Create opportunities to do work-related tasks that feel daunting to you, but in a low risk environment, such as offering to chair a volunteers’ meeting or taking a training course which involves group & presentation work.

2. Social Modelling.

Seeing other people being successful raises our belief that we can do it too. We need role models! That’s why we’re collecting success stories of women who have successfully relaunched their careers. Read our stories on the Women Returners website and actively seek out women who have already gone down the road you want to take.

3. Social Persuasion

Getting encouragement from others helps us to overcome self-doubt. Spend more time with people who will encourage you and give you a boost, and less with the downbeat ‘energy vampires’ in your life! Remember that the people you are closest to may be discouraging about your return to work because they are worried about the impact it will have on their lives.

4. Psychological Responses

Better managing your stress levels and emotions can improve your confidence. Work out what helps you to feel calmer under stress – maybe having time to prepare, going for a run, or just taking a few deep breaths – and use these techniques consciously next time you’re under pressure. Think about taking a yoga or mindfulness course if you find it difficult to manage your stress levels and emotions.

And you can use this framework to build your self-efficacy once you’re back at work too!

 

julianne&katerinaAuthor: Julianne Miles, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

How to avoid the Top 10 Return to Work Job Search mistakes

Over the years that I have been working with returners, I’ve noticed how many women make the same job search mistakes that can completely derail their return to work. To stop you falling into the same traps, here’s my summary of the Top 10 and a few tips on how to avoid them.

1. Relying on headhunters and recruitment agencies to find you a role
Headhunters and other agencies are paid for filling specific vacancies and if your profile doesn’t exactly match they won’t be interested. And a long career break labels you as a risky candidate. Do let any headhunter contacts know that you are looking for work and look for agencies sympathetic to returners. Just don’t make this your sole strategy or be deterred by the negative reception most will give you.

2. Sitting at home scanning LinkedIn, job boards and website for vacancies
Only an estimated 20-30% of vacancies are ever advertised, so if this is your approach to finding a role, you are missing out on the the majority of positions that are filled through recommendation, word of mouth and former colleagues. To access the ‘hidden job market’ you need to be more active, start networking and tell everyone you meet about your search.

3. Defining yourself too narrowly by your previous role
It’s easy to restrict ourselves to roles similar to our last job title or specialist qualification. This narrows your options and can make you feel that you’re not qualified for any role that fits with your life now. Instead, look out for roles that ask for the broader skills and strengths you possess within fields that interest you.

4. Sending one application at a time…
If you get excited about having found The Ideal Role and wait to see what happens with it before making other applications, you could be waiting a very long time. Hiring decisions are rarely quick, company priorities can change and you may not ultimately get the job for a variety of reasons. Keep networking, and seeking and applying for other opportunities in the meantime, until you actually sign the contract.

5. … Or making scatter gun applications
Don’t fire off applications or direct approaches to everyone you can think of. You waste time applying for roles that aren’t a good fit for you and you’ll appear unfocused in your application & under-motivated in an interview. Decide what to target and treat each application with care, researching the organisation and the specific requirements of the role and tailoring your application accordingly.

6. Applying for roles that are too junior
If your confidence in your abilities is low, you may apply for ‘less demanding’ roles as a way of easing yourself back into work. The trouble is that you will appear over-qualified to the hiring manager and are likely to become rapidly frustrated once you’re back up to speed. If you have a strong reason for choosing this route, clearly explain the rationale in your application.

7. Looking just for part-time or flexible roles
You might have decided that your job needs to be part-time or flexible. However many employers will consider flexible working ‘for the right candidate’ even though they don’t state it in the job ad. Consider whether the content of the role appeals and whether there could be a business case to do it flexibly.

8. Apologising for your career break
Explain the reason for your break on your CV (eg. parental career break) and in interviews and then don’t dwell on it, justify it or apologise for it!

9. Undervaluing what you’ve done in your break
If you have done something that has built your broader skills or opened new perspectives to you during your break, this is valuable to a potential employer, so don’t minimise or ignore it on your CV.

10. Not asking for feedback after rejections
When you are rejected after online tests or interviews it is easy to blame yourself and to become dispirited. By requesting feedback you can find out what you need to work on to make future applications stronger.

 

julianne&katerinaAuthor: Katerina Gould, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

Great British Brains - Infographic

Great British Brains – Infographic

Nice infographic by AXA Business Insurance and the Great British Entrepreneurs Award. I love it how the word ‘Entrepreneur’ used to be associated with wealth and celebrity, but business owners are redefining the word in their own way. The infographic shows that the number of female entrepreneurs is rising 3 times faster than the rate for men!

 

 

great-british-brains-infographic

Re-connecting with your professional self

Re-connecting with your professional self

One of our top tips for women returners is to remember that you are the same professional person you always were, you are just out of practice. But why is it that you need reminding, and how do you gain back that easy confidence that you used to have in the past? Let’s have a look.

Why do we need to be reminded of this?

There are many reasons why, when we take a break from our career, we can develop a diminished view of ourselves from the one we held when we were working. In the mix are:

  • a change in priorities (our career is no longer our sole focus and might not be as important as it once was)
  • a shift in identity (taking a long break, especially when it involves taking on new responsibilities, changes our daily activities, what we think about and talk about)
  • refocusing of values (where we once valued position, responsibility and status, for example, we might now be more concerned with creating strong family relationships or working for a purpose).

All these changes can mean that we no longer recognise the previous professional version of our self, or doubt whether we can be like her again.

Remind yourself of the professional you were

Even if your perspective and priorities have changed in the years you’ve been away from your career, the things you accomplished during your career and the skills you gained have not. You are still the person who built strong client relationships, managed a team, delivered complex projects, won sales pitches and gained qualifications. These experiences are still part of you and you still have those skills and abilities even if you haven’t used them (professionally) for a while.

You may find it hard to recognise and value your former self because the work you did before didn’t fully fit you at the time. Maybe that professional identity felt false. Even so, you still achieved and gained experiences which you can take forward into a new role that will feel more authentic.

 

Regain your professional self

This is a really important step to take as you plan for your return to work. It will help with developing your self-belief (if you need it) and will provide content for your CV, LinkedIn profile and your interview answers.

  • Reflect on what you consider your career highlights and think about what qualities you exhibited. Are those qualities still part of who you are today?
  • Talk to former work colleagues, who remember you as the professional you were, and ask them for some feedback on what they saw you doing well or admired about you.
  • Practice your career story, starting with your professional background and expertise rather than your career break
  • Find a project or volunteer position which allows you to refresh your skills (Read more on Strategic Volunteering)
  • Subscribe to the industry journals you used to read and join on-line forums which are relevant.
  • (Re)join professional networks and attend relevant conferences. You can find a good list of events, many of which are free on the Mum & Career event-listing.
  • Take refresher courses in your area of interest or expertise.

If you are still finding it difficult to re-connect with your professional self, then you might like to consider working with another returner or a career coach to give you the boost you need.

 

julianne&katerinaAuthor: Katerina Gould, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

How to make time for your return to work job search

How to make time for your return to work job search

Two recent conversations with returners have reminded me how difficult it can be for women to focus on their return to work activity: there always seems to be something more important or time-consuming for them to do.

As former professionals used to managing busy careers, women on career break often fill their lives with activities that keep them busy, engaged and feeling productive. As well as looking after family and home, they frequently take on voluntary roles or small paid projects, develop new hobbies and simply ‘help others out’.

The difficulty comes when trying to return to work: how do you fit a job search into an already busy life? The truth is that finding a new role, especially when you have left the workforce, is a job in itself. Your return to work will only happen with dedicated time, energy and commitment.

Why it’s hard to find space

Somehow, it’s especially hard for mother and this is why:

  • you might not be sure whether you are ready to return, so you don’t give it your attention to avoid having to make a decision
  • you don’t know how to get started on your return to work, so you procrastinate
  • you’ve made some small efforts and have been deterred by the response (or lack of) you’ve received
  • it’s the wrong time of year (eg pre-Christmas/Easter/summer holiday)
  • it feels selfish to be focusing on yourself after so many years of putting others first
    you don’t know which of the other activities to cut out, in order to make space for your return to work plans

 

How to create space

Here are some ideas on how you can start to create time for yourself, so you can address some of these barriers, both practical and psychological:

  • start small – make a date with yourself! It could be sitting in a coffee shop for half an hour after school drop off, on your own with the purpose of doing your own thinking and planning. If you can do this once, you can start to make it a regular habit and then expand the time you devote to it
  • enlist a buddy – this could either be someone in the same position as you with whom you can meet regularly and share experiences and ideas. Or it could be someone who is simply there to support, encourage and celebrate with you and keep you on track
  • give your search a project name – to give it focus and make it more like a work project
  • sign up for a relevant course – this will enable to you dedicate time to your new direction, introduce you to others who might be helpful to you and signify that you are taking positive steps for yourself
  • address your reluctance to put yourself first – by trying it out! This post on Banning Selfish may be useful
  • delegate – perhaps you don’t have to keep doing all the things you currently do whether at home or elsewhere
    work with a coach – this will commit you to spending time (and money) on your return to work in a structured way and get you into the habit of giving time to this activity.

Remember that no-one else can do the work required for you, so your return to work will only happen if you give it – and yourself – the time and attention you deserve.

 

julianne&katerinaAuthor: Katerina Gould, from the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break.

The Right to Request Flexible Working - Infographic

The Right to Request Flexible Working – Infographic

Author: The infographic was commissioned by GoToMeeting http://www.gotomeeting.co.uk/ from Citrix

The legislation changes in the UK around giving more employees the option for flexible working hours explained in a very useful infographic. The legislation became effective in June 2014. Do click the infographic to find out more on the following key areas:

- What does this change of legislation mean for UK employees

flexible-working-infographic- What do employers think? Vital to know if you are thinking about requesting flexible work

- The benefits of a flexible workplace. Great to weave in a conversation about your flexible working request

 – How to make a request for flexible working hours as an employee

  –   How to handle a request for flexible working hours as an employer