As a woman who took a relatively lengthy career break to care for my children, I was interested to learn about the launch of a new scheme by Credit Suisse in London to help senior professional women re-start their careers after taking time out of the workplace. Dubbed the “returnship”, the Real Returns programme is the first UK example of an idea which has been gathering pace in the US over the last few years. The scheme involves returners taking on CV-worthy projects that draw on their existing skills and experience and being paid accordingly. It’s effectively putting a toe back in the water of the corporate world, allowing women – who have perhaps lost confidence in their abilities – the opportunity to prove that they’ve still got what it takes to succeed and that it is actually possible to juggle corporate life and a family.
This story really struck a chord with me personally, as believe me, when you’ve been out of the corporate world for a good few years, the prospect of going back is a daunting one indeed. Once you’ve jumped off the train, it’s very hard to jump back on. In fact, a recent survey from London Business School shows 70% of women fear taking a career break. Nagging doubts about whether you can still do your job, whether you’ll be up to speed with new technology and how you’ll combine a working day with the working day you usually put in as the primary carer are more than enough to put you off even looking for a role.
I know of far too many professional women –experienced, bright, capable and very well-organised – who have never returned to work after having a family. Not only is this a great loss to the professional world and the wider economy, but it’s also a personal loss for these ladies. All of that brain power, time invested in studying – in most cases for a degree or professional qualification – not to mention years spent climbing the career ladder, potentially sidelined for a future of domestic drudgery or a low-paid job for which they are massively over-qualified!
Luckily, despite putting it off…and off…and off, I persevered with my own job search and was lucky enough to be given an opportunity for my own type of “returnship” with BlueSky PR, undertaking a contract to cover maternity leave. Yes, it was daunting, but it proved to me I can still make a valuable contribution. It helps that I’m working for a company that is prepared to be flexible in terms of my working hours – sometimes it can be simple things like being able to do the school run in the morning that make returning to work a viable option for mothers. The good news is the arrangement has worked for all concerned, and I’m proud to now be a fully employed member of the BlueSky PR team.
So employers, take note – could you offer a “returnship” to someone who has taken a career break? By not doing so, you are quite probably missing out on a huge skills pool that could remain untapped. I’m confident you’d be pleasantly surprised by the result.