In this blog, we speak to Women Returners’ Head of Coaching, Karen Danker, about her background, why she joined Women Returners, what her role entails and her hopes for the future…

What is your professional background, Karen?

I started my career as a solicitor and then moved to a City law firm to run their graduate recruitment and development function. After a brief career break in the US with my young family, I returned to the UK and joined Women Like Us (now Timewise), a brilliant flexible working consultancy, where I first gained real insight into the challenges women often faced returning to work after a career break. I loved working with them to help them find quality flexible work that matched their seniority and skills, and to provide great talent to organisations. Most recently, I worked in the charity sector, running leadership development programmes for young adults and professional women. The common thread that’s run through my different roles has been this real driver to enable others to develop and flourish so that they can fulfil their potential in line with their skills and values.
Why did you decide to join Women Returners?

I’d known about Women Returners for quite a long time and had been following their progress. I was really excited about what they were doing – championing a route back to work that really helped maximise the success for returners. I also knew they were a voice within Government and had built partnerships with big corporates. I was excited by the impact they were having. 

Their values also chimed with mine – and that’s become increasingly important to me as I’ve got older. Their aim to make a positive difference to society was a key driver for me. They’re professional, innovative and ambitious and that for me makes them a really dynamic organisation to be part of.

What is your role at Women Returners?

I joined in January 2019 focusing on one-to-one coaching at first. As Head of Coaching, the main part of my role now is to be the focal point for our brilliant team of coaches and to make sure we continue to innovate, evolve and develop our materials and resources – and, of course, ourselves as coaches.

What do you think makes Women Returners’ coaching work?

Firstly, we have a team of really skilled, talented coaches with backgrounds in the corporate world. They understand both our clients’ business needs and the experience of being on a long career break and the challenges of returning to a professional role. They’re also incredibly warm and empathetic people. So for returners who start on day one feeling a little anxious about returning to work, our coaches really help them start well and progress successfully.

Secondly, we work with our clients from the beginning to understand what their business needs are so that we can tailor a programme to support them. A key objective for us is to set up programmes for success from the onset. We offer initial training for a client’s recruitment team and line managers so that they understand upfront the return-to-work marketplace and the practical steps they need to put into place to allow returners to perform at their best both at interview and when they join the organisation.

For returnship programmes, we run our Career Returners Coaching Programme which has been specifically tailored to address the practical and psychological challenges faced by professionals re-entering the workforce. The coaching workshops are very effective as they coincide with various transition stages the returners are going through. Our coaching for supported hire roles follows a similar pathway. The coaching is tailored to the group or individual and includes building professional confidence, sustainable working patterns, networking skills and action-planning for success.

We also offer a variety of Return to Work coaching for individuals outside of our corporate programmes, which include CV, LinkedIn and interview preparation coaching. 

We get fantastic feedback so we know the process works!

Finally, how do you see the job market for returners developing?
My hope is that, with people having longer working lives, taking career breaks for all sorts of reasons will become the norm. I’d also like to see supported routes back into work become a normal part of any recruitment strategy to find senior talent. I’d like to see all returners have the ability to hit ‘play’ on their ambitions and careers knowing that they will be sought-after by top organisations. And when they do return, to know that they will be supported, trained and mentored so that they can get back up to speed really quickly. I hope all organisations will recognise that if they’re not doing this they are missing out on some great talent.

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