How to stop your career break from becoming a career breaker

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By Jenny Constable, CA Today

4 December 2018

The prospect of returning to work can be a daunting one. For those looking to restart their career the increasing pace of change in technology and regulation poses a potential barrier.

There are currently more than 800 ICAS members on a “career break”. Reasons range from long-term illness to redundancy and caring duties – the need to take time out of a professional career is not exclusively associated with mothers requiring time off to look after young children or care for elderly relatives.

Carol Christianson CA, who took a career break to look after her young children, says: “Many returning employees feel that their confidence takes a knock as they feel ‘out of the loop’ and that in this fast-changing digital world they are ‘out of date’.

“The reality often is, though, that very quickly these skills can be updated and the valuable experience, people management, maturity, initiative, and common-sense skills can be demonstrated straight away.”

Qualified returners can bring a wealth of professional and life experience. Realising the value of qualified and experienced returners potentially available to them, employers are now beginning to address the problem.

Economic incentives aren’t the only factor forcing firms to rethink the ways in which they support returners. With awareness of gender inequality in the workplace receiving high levels of scrutiny, professional as well as societal attitudes to the question of caring duties have also undergone a shift.

The Equal Lives research, in partnership with Santander UK, is a new body of research that aims to understand the barriers that prevent men from taking on carer roles. Its goal is to focus on a central cause of inequality in the workplace – the imbalance in care duties between men and women.

The research found that 85% of the men spoken to agreed that they should be as involved in childcare as women are, with 56% expressing a wish to be more involved with their children’s lives.

It also found that men aged under 35 were significantly more interested in being involved in carer roles than those from older generations.

Easing the transition

Santander launched its ‘returnship’ programme in 2018 with the aim of helping professionals who had been out of work for more than 12 months.

Eleanor Streatfield CA was part of the pilot launch of the scheme, having taken a five-year career break to care for a young family. She says: “Within the first week of starting at Santander we met Nathan Bostock, Chief Executive, and Susan Allen, Head of Retail and Business Banking, and that was a real highlight.

“Their executive support, and the additional training and coaching through the ‘Accelerating You’ programme, Santander’s leadership development initiative, helped give me the confidence to apply for a permanent role at the end of the scheme.

“Santander also supported my request to work four days, with some of those working from home. This has been key for helping me to manage the challenges of the job with those of my family.”

Meanwhile, Big Four accountancy firm Deloitte offers a ‘time out’ programme, allowing staff to take a four-week block of unpaid leave, and also offers a 25-week paid internship for returners, with the possibility of offering participants a permanent or contracted role upon completion.

With more than 80% of Deloitte’s returners being offered a position, one of the most successful aspects of the programme is its flexibility. Returners are able to annualise their days, and have easy access to parental transitions coaching.

The firm’s return-to-work programme was motivated in part by the personal experience of Deloitte’s Managing Partner for Talent, Emma Codd, who saw that mothers at her children’s school were unable to find an entry route back to their career at a suitable level equivalent to that they’d previously held.

The firm also realised it was losing a higher number of its female worker parents and carers, and predicted that if this trend was consistent across the industry that there would be a “significantly untapped pool of fantastic talent” available to them.

Charlotte Blyton, Associate Director Tax Consulting and one of Deloitte’s first returners, says: “We’ve all been there and thought ‘I can’t do it’. But you can.

“I was considering taking a part-time management job at a pre-school, until I heard about the Deloitte return-to-work programme.

“I’d lost confidence; my world had narrowed, and I had lowered my expectations. This is a fantastic opportunity to get back on the career ladder.”

Coaching for success

Returnships such as the programme at Deloitte are a relatively new phenomenon, designed to help those who have taken extended career breaks ease back into working life.

One professional network highlighting the difficulties females face in this situation is Women Returners.

With a coaching team of professional women, who have all themselves taken a break from their corporate career, Women Returners offers support to individuals, acts as advocates for returnship programmes by raising awareness and building broad education, and provides speciality consultancy and coaching services to employers.

Hazel Little, a member of Women Returners’ coaching team, had worked in HR for 16 years before leaving her role as HR director for a three-year career break when her second child was born.

She says: “Being a returner myself, I have experienced first-hand the typical barriers that people face when trying to get back on the corporate ladder.”

In Women Returners’ first cross-company programme in April 2018, it partnered with 12 financial services firms and more than 86% of the participants secured ongoing employment as a result.


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