- Which elements of my previous roles did I most enjoy and excel at?
- Can these elements exist as roles on their own or as key aspects of other roles? Did I notice any gaps at a previous employer which I would like to fill?
“Is it really possible to get back into work after I’ve been out so long? I don’t know anyone who’s done it apart from a few friends who have retrained as teachers.”
Janice’s comment echoes the feeling of many women I talk to who are thinking about going back after a long career break. We look around and the world seems to divide between friends and colleagues who have never taken a long break and those who are on a career break and are not showing much inclination to return to the workplace. “Do you know of any finance directors (lawyers/marketing managers/…) who have successfully returned to work after many years out?” is a question we’re often asked. If you don’t know any examples of women similar to yourself who have made the transition back to fulfilling work, you can start to question if it is possible.
Why don’t I know more role models of successful returners?
Partly it’s a question of timing. Before the 1980’s there just weren’t that many professional women (eg. in 1971 4% of UK lawyers were female; in 2009 it was 43%*). The 1970’s ‘career women’ were less likely to give up their hard-won professions to care for their children or elderly parents. It was the highly-qualified women who began their working lives in the more equal 1980’s, or later, who felt confident enough in the 1990’s and 2000’s to take extended career breaks. So it was only in the mid 2000’s that the phenomenon of professional women returners started to be noticed in the US**. As we are still in the early days of finding routes back in to the workplace, it is not surprising that examples of successful returners can seem few and far between. This doesn’t mean you can’t find them, it just means you have to look a bit harder.
Why is it important for us to have role models? (the psychology bit)
According to psychologist Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory, having role models has a major effect on our belief in our ability to succeed in a certain situation (our ‘self-efficacy’). If we see people similar to ourselves succeeding in what we want to do, then we are more likely to believe we have the capabilities to do this too and to cope with inevitable setbacks. If we have a weak sense of self-efficacy we quickly lose confidence in our abilities, become more negative and are more likely to give up on our goals.
Where can I find more role models?
- Ask your friends/colleagues if they know anyone who has returned to work after a long break and who seems to be happy and fulfilled with their work-life.
- Check your LinkedIn contacts: some people list ‘career break’ as a role.
- I think that the many success stories on the US iRelaunch website are one of the best sources of ‘Look it can be done’ inspiration.
- As Katerina & I thought it would be great to have a bank of UK successes, we are starting to collect UK returner stories which we will include on our womenreturners.com website.
Do you know any women professionals who have successfully returned to work … or are you a possible role model yourself? If so do get in touch. We’re not just looking for the high-flying returners, more a range of women who are back at work and happy with the work-family choices they have made.
* Alison Wolf, The XX Factor, 2013 ** Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Off-Ramps & On-Ramps, 2007
Posted by Julianne
I recently delivered my eldest child to university and have
experienced my first taste of the empty nest.
During the long drive there and back, I was thinking over my child’s 18
years and the many transitions we have both gone through. Two of those are relevant here: becoming a mother
for the first time and returning to work after an eight year break. I noticed how differently I prepared for and
experienced these two events.
child was born were filled with hours of preparation and planning for both me
and sometimes my husband. We read books
and magazines, joined ante-natal classes and the NCT, attended yoga sessions and engaged a team of
experts to support us: GP, midwife and even a water-birth guru! And we were lucky enough to have grandparents
and friends to advise and guide us. Is
any of this sounding familiar?
phase of our lives.
greater. My husband was barely available
because of the demands of his career (and, to be fair, I probably didn’t ask
for enough). There were few books,
classes, workshops or experts to consult.
The grandparents were gone and friends had either not stopped working or weren’t ready to think about returning.
It is not really surprising that I found my return to work so lonely and
at times felt it was all too difficult.
about your own return. I think that the
lessons are clear. Returning to work
after a career break requires preparation, all-round support and
guidance in the same way as becoming a mother did. You need both practical and emotional support through the transition and any ambivalence you are feeling. We are
making it really hard on ourselves if we think we can (or should) do it alone.
to turn to, (including this blog). We’ve listed all that we’ve found on our website and would love to hear where else
you have found inspiration and support.
I co-ran a workshop for INSEAD alumni last week on getting past the internal barriers that can keep us stuck when we want to make a career change: our fears, beliefs and ‘shoulds’. We’ve talked previously in this blog about fear of being selfish, fear of failure, and guilt. And we’ve touched on the limiting beliefs that can unconsciously hold us back, such as “there aren’t any good part time jobs out there” or “I’m too old to go into something different“. If you’re feeling stuck, there may be another mental trap you have set up for yourself without realising it – your ‘shoulds’. Do you recognise any of these …?
“I should look for a safe and secure job”
“I should stick with what I’m good at”
“I should stay at home while my children are young”
“I should always be available for my family”
“I shouldn’t waste my qualifications”
“I shouldn’t take a low-paying job”
When we say ‘I should’ we don’t always mean “I want to” – we may just feel a pressure to behave in a certain way. It helps to understand the psychological basis for this. As we go through life, we develop certain values based on repeated messages we’ve received from other important people in our lives*. Often it’s from our parents, sometimes it’s our teachers, or it may be friends, or respected colleagues. If our father tells us enough times that we ‘shouldn’t waste our qualifications’, this can become an implicit rule that we live our lives by without questioning whether it is a choice that we ourselves want to make. These inner ‘rules’ can unconsciously keep you unhappily at home (or drive you reluctantly back to work) or stop you from changing to a more satisfying job when you do return to work.
Our values can be influenced by where we are living or the society we have grown up in. One of my clients, Isabelle, a French accountant, was full of guilt for taking a career break. Isabelle’s mother had been a ‘career woman’ who had told her that “women should earn their own money” and all her equally well-educated friends in Paris were working mothers and could not understand why she had not returned to work. She felt a push to return to a prestigious job even though she was concerned about not having enough time for her family: “I should be using my education” was how she put it. Another client from Germany faced a different set of cultural norms; Karin wanted to return to work but felt pressured into staying at home because it was the expectation in her town that mothers of primary-age children did not work. As she explained, “I feel it should be enough for me to be concentrating on raising my children”.
It’s worth listening to what you’re telling yourself or other people when you’re debating returning to work. We’re often not aware of the difference between our ‘shoulds’ and our ‘wants”. Next time you find yourself saying “I should” try changing it to ‘I want to’ or ‘I choose to” and see if it is still true. If you realise that this is not your choice, ask yourself if this is someone else’s value that you’re ready to let go of. Of course it’s not always that simple to get rid of a long-held belief, but maybe it will start to free you up to see a broader range of options.
* Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic psychology, described back in the 1960s how we ‘introject’ other influential people’s values and suggested that we need to ‘shed the shoulds and oughts’ to develop our personal value system.
Posted by Julianne