Budget day fell on International Women’s Day this year. And the Government used the opportunity to announce £5m to support people wanting to return to work after long breaks, especially to women who often “find the route back into employment closed off – the doors shut to them”. Let me tell you my story and how my journey helped me play a part in this decision.
So who takes a career break when they are the main wage earner? Who takes a career break when their children are 10 and 14? And who would take a career break when they have no easy return to work route? Well I did! I probably sound like I some reckless fool but for me at that point in time it was the right thing to do.
I had spent my life working up the career ladder in demanding international HR roles, commuting across Europe. Then my father died. And I looked at my two beautiful children and knew if I didn’t take some time now with them, it would be too late. Don’t get me wrong – I loved my career but I loved my family too and I wanted to balance the scales in their favour for a while.
So I did it! I spent 18 months doing what other parents do: school runs, chasing lost uniform, watching rounders’ matches and taking far too much interest in their school results. I joined the school PA, a book club, finally used the gym and had endless coffees with friends. And I loved it!
Then 12 months later, feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, I decided to come back to work. Having enjoyed looking for new jobs before, I was faced with a real shock. Suddenly, by not following a traditional career path I felt I wasn’t treated seriously any more. Why did I have a break on my cv? Could I not get another job? Could I not hack life in a senior role? Jobs I knew I could do easily I wasn’t even shortlisted for. I lost track of the number of excuses I heard. “We need someone with more recent experience” was always a good one.
Eventually, through hard work and perseverance, I did get three job offers – interestingly all from female leaders. So thank you to those enlightened women who trusted me enough to offer me a job! I could only take one offer and chose the Home Office because the scale and challenge of a role in Government was so different to anything I had done before.
One of the highlights of my role at the Home Office role has been the responsibility for Talent Attraction and Career Programmes. This gave me the opportunity to do something for people wanting to return to work – for those people facing the same experiences as I had. So one of my achievements has been setting up our Returners’ Programme. This was the first programme in Government aimed at anyone wanting to return to work after a career break.
The Home Office now offers 6 months flexible project work in selected departments. And guess what? We have found the quality of applicants for this programme has far exceeded other recruitment methods. All that talent, waiting to be appreciated!
So what has this to do with Budget Day announcements?
Well, following the launch of our Home Office programme, I was excited to be invited to join a small working party looking at how we could support Returners’ Programmes across the Government. I remember sitting in 10 Downing Street thinking it was incredible that a few years ago my experience was discarded. Yet I was, able to use this experience to positively influence the cross-government agenda.
So my advice to those wanting to return to work, is not to give up. Look for these Programmes, which give you a way back into your careers. To employers, I ask that you take a career returner seriously next time their cvs come across your desk. Embrace their different life choices, otherwise, you could be missing out on some hidden talent.