MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 28-Apr-15 14:40:10

Guest post: Women returners - "you are the same talented, professional person you were"

Julianne Miles on the things she wants mothers returning to work to remember

If you're looking to return to work, come along to our annual Workfest on 16 May - a day of expert advice, practical workshops and inspiring speakers to help you get back on the career ladder

Julianne Miles

Co-founder of Women Returners and Workfest speaker

Posted on: Tue 28-Apr-15 14:40:10

(16 comments )

Lead photo

'You're not "just a mum", you didn't run "just a small business from home".'

As mothers we become very skilled at fighting. When our children are younger, we fight to keep them safe and to get the best for their future, and as they get older, we become practised in negotiating the teenage conflict zone. In a recent Mumsnet guest post, Kiran Chug described another battle many mothers need to fight – to get their careers back after a long break. Yet I find that when it comes to fighting for their own future, too often women surrender at the outset, or their self-belief flounders well before they achieve their objective.

Through my work I regularly meet talented and experienced women on career breaks who have written themselves off. Typical is Jackie, who stepped back from a high-flying 18-year career when jetting around the world for client pitches became impossible with three young children. She told me apologetically: "I've mainly been just a mum for years now, doing bits of consultancy for small businesses, nothing exciting." Approaching her fifties, with teenage children, she was sceptical of her chances of restarting her career: "I'd love to have a great job again but it's been too long. Who would want me now? Media is a young person's world and I'm too old to start again."

I can remember my own doubts and insecurities after four years out. It is so easy to give up when well-crafted job applications are ignored and recruiters dismiss your chances. Keen to relaunch in their previous fields, mothers often start their job search with a burst of enthusiasm, but then rapidly become disillusioned. In a recent Woman's Hour feature, 48-year-old Carmen, who had wanted to resume her career as a City macro-economist, explained how she was told by a headhunter that she had "no chance on earth of going back to the financial sector" after a seven year break. So she wrote off this option, decided she'd have to start again at the bottom and took a minimum wage internship with a charity.

Mothers need to come back fighting. We need to value ourselves and what we can bring to the workforce.


At Women Returners, we are tackling this waste of female talent, both by supporting individual returners and by working with organisations to create more routes back into corporate roles. But if we're going to succeed in our objective, we also need mothers to remove the limits they are placing on themselves and to come back fighting. We need to value ourselves and what we can bring to the workforce.

To this end, there are a few things I want women hoping to return to work to do:

1. Remember you are still the same talented professional woman you were and you will quickly get back up to speed. You also have a wealth of new skills developed during your break, combined with maturity and a fresh perspective.

2. Don't minimise yourself. You're not "just a mum", you didn't run "just a small business from home" and your previous professional success wasn't down to luck.

3. Know that UK businesses want you back. Companies from Credit Suisse to Thames Tideway Tunnel are launching returnships – paid internships for returning professionals to transition back into senior roles. They see returners as an untapped talent pool which can both fill capability gaps and build diversity.

4. Be open-minded about new possibilities. If you don't want to go back to your old career, you are not too old to retrain into a new career or set up your own business and, most importantly, all those years of experience will still count.

5. Don't give up. We're not claiming that getting back into a great job after many years out is easy, but it is possible with determination and persistence, as the many return-to-work success stories on the Women Returners site demonstrate.

Carmen didn't give up and is now back working as an Executive Director in the City through participating in Morgan Stanley's returnship programme. And Jackie is starting to explore other options as well as reconnecting with her ex-colleagues who remember her as an amazing boss, not "just a mum". If you're ready to restart your career, you may have to battle - but it will be well worth the fight.

By Julianne Miles

Twitter: @womenreturners

Duckdeamon Tue 28-Apr-15 14:54:20

The goals of the organisation sound really good, and like the idea of returners' programmes.

but why so much emphasis on women limiting themselves? There are all kinds of barriers to women remaining in or returning to work: why not focus on employer or men's' attitudes for example?

catsharingmychair Tue 28-Apr-15 18:10:00

Thanks for your motivating words, lovely to hear.

My problem is not one of self-confidence, reduced personal motivation or fear of failure - it is absolutely, inexorably and frustratingly, one of childcare. One is at primary with no breakfast club and an after school club that finishes at 5pm and is 'boring'. The other is at secondary with lots of great, free, after school activities, that all finish at 4.15pm. However the only school bus home is at 3pm. So either she is picked up or there's no clubs.

One option is to put one child into a club she does not enjoy and is full of younger children (this DD is 10) and to not allow the other one (12) to go to any secondary school clubs- to come home on the bus and then BE ALONE until I pick up the youngest and get home- but even then I'd have to negotiate a daily early home time in order to reach the after school club in time.

Or I try to find a child minder or house keeper to pick up both children at different times, then hold on to them - which will be £10 per hour, plus petrol for driving and potentially insurance. This is probably £30 per day realistically, but combining this with a dog walker (£10 per day), my own petrol to reach work, and the horror of having to pay £10 per hour from 8am to 6pm during the holidays (all 12 or so weeks of them) means the salary has to be fairly inflated to make all the utter stress and upset of it all worthwhile.

So I have been self employed for 15 years to ensure a work-life balance. I would love to be in the position of a very tiny minority of female friends who are lucky enough to have work from home husbands and so can enjoy fabulously interesting jobs, overseas travel - and not to be the only person responsible for child care- so less guilt than usual.

I'd love to take up the opportunities offered by Credit Suisse etc but fear they'd soon tire of my children being ill, in sequence usually, my requesting to work from home due to spontaneous issues such as my ceiling falling in after a storm, and the parent workshops/plays we all wish to attend.

In the words of one well known film - 'I don't know how she does it'.
Sorry - rant over!

SuiGeneris Tue 28-Apr-15 18:37:52

Catsharingmychair: I would not limit your options by assuming employers do not understand working parents.

I know for a fact this is not the case. I have two kids, work part-time and from home some of the time... 80% of senior colleagues are parents and do understand the obligations thatcome with children. We use part of our disposable income to pay for sufficient childcare to make work possible.

cailindana Tue 28-Apr-15 18:51:45

I agree with Duck. The last thing women need is yet another person pointing at them and saying "you are the problem," in this case because we are lacking in self-belief.

Given that every single person that exists on this planet is here because a woman gave birth to them, why is it that motherhood destroys a woman's confidence? Given how absolutely vital childbearing is to the world, why is it treated as an annoyance, a thing that women do that interferes with real work (ie work done by men). Why is it that we live in a society where the vital work of sustaining life, work that has resulted in the existence of all of us, is so badly undervalued?

There is no point in pointing at women who have been told they're worthless by society and saying "you need to believe in yourselves." Women don't have low confidence for nothing, they don't put themselves down for fun. They feel worthless because that's how society views them - as "just a mum." What we need is someone out there saying that if someone hadn't given up their time and energy and bodily autonomy and security then you wouldn't exist. Some woman sacrificed a whole lot to give you life and you should bloody well value that, and all the women who do that amazing thing every day.

Motherhood should make you feel like you can do anything, because hey, you can do anything, you can create life ffs! Instead of wagging fingers and telling women to stop responding normally to shit that's shovelled at them you should be building them up by pointing out that even if the world of work sees them as nothing, they are everything.

Crazyqueenofthecatladies Tue 28-Apr-15 19:44:08

Cailindana for PM, brilliant post!!

tellmemore1982 Tue 28-Apr-15 20:03:15

YY Cailindana

fustybritches Tue 28-Apr-15 20:05:44

Cailindana you speak so much sense thanks

liger Tue 28-Apr-15 21:01:03

Fantastic post by calindana - that should be blown up onto enormous posters and put in prominent pal was across the globe!

Barefoot789 Tue 28-Apr-15 21:51:20

Cailindana - that brought a year to my eye! It's exactly how I fee but could never express.

Barefoot789 Tue 28-Apr-15 21:51:51

A tear obviously!

IceBeing Tue 28-Apr-15 23:07:49

yy to calin (as usual)

also what if you aren't the same person? What if a traumatic birth has shattered your mental health? What if noone gives a crap coz, meh its just childbirth isn't it? get over it and move on?

BeakyMinder Wed 29-Apr-15 00:00:20

Ironically, I'm hearing the same arguments here as often get used against feminists: 'Why are you making such a fuss about x when y is so much more important?'

Look, there are loads of different and complicated problems related to work and motherhood - but it's not the OPs responsibility to fix all of them by herself. There are many organisations and individuals who support and campaign for women in a variety of different circumstances, let's celebrate them all without denigrating. It's not a competition.

WomenReturners Wed 29-Apr-15 09:13:47

It's Julianne, the author here. Duckdeamon: the focus of this article is about women limiting themselves as it's on Mumsnet but we completely agree that there are many barriers and we are tackling it from all sides. We spend a lot of our time championing women returners with employers & raising awareness of these barriers (see www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2015/mar/23/the-five-things-i-want-to-tell-employers-about-women-returning-to-work). We can't change society overnight to value motherhood more, but we are doing what we can to create solutions to one of the problems - giving us more choice to spend time with our families and get back to the workforce if & when we want to.

Jackieharris Wed 29-Apr-15 10:25:24

I went and did a pg career orientated qualification as a way of restarting my career after a break.

I'm still not getting anywhere.

I'm not getting many interviews and when I do half aren't going well.

I'm being told I don't have enough experience/recent experience.

I'm now looking at voluntary work.

It very difficult to have confidence in app forms & interviews when you've had years of rejection!

I find interviews particularly difficult. I'm much better at the job than interviews!

I've had quite a lot of advice but it's often contradictory.

I hate being stuck at home. Childcare's not an issue. I can fully commit to a job but no one will give me a chance. I see my life slipping away. I'm not the role model I want to be for my DCs.

It all feels like such a waste.

musichelen Wed 29-Apr-15 19:24:14

Fabulous answer, completely and utterly agree with you, I wish we could shout it from the roof tops! I speak to mothers regularly who want to set up their own business but lack self belief and find myself telling them they CAN do it! I only wish more mums believed in themselves and society at large promoted the truth behind motherhood.

Sophiematthews1 Fri 01-May-15 13:51:13

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

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