Earlier this year, more than half (51%) of the 2000 or so women we surveyed about their careers cited ‘confidence in my personal abilities’ as a factor that may get in the way of them achieving their ambitions over the next two years.
You can see why such confidence may especially be an issue for women who’ve taken time out to have children and are looking to get back into the workforce, and also for those who are looking to change industries or careers entirely.
We also found numerous women commenting that despite being on a career break – or having recently returned from one – they were feeling more ambitious than ever before. Some noted that with their kids in school and finally at an independent age, they were ready to get stuck into demanding and challenging roles.
But they weren’t sure employers would accept the professional gaps in their resumes.
That’s why it’s good to see a number of programs launching that are designed to specifically target women (and men) who’ve taken a career break, including the Serendis Career Returners Program, which offers paid secondments with partnering organisations to professionals who’re looking to return to work (and is currently calling for applications), and AGSM’s Career Comeback Scholarships, which recently awarded 10 scholarships to individuals who’re on a career break and keen on planning a big return.
Other organisations like Deloitte also run their own individual ‘career returner’ programs and are seeing them as a productive way to attract great talent. ‘Returnships’ are particularly prominent in the United Kingdom, and appear to have been first pioneered by Goldman Sachs in 2008, and later followed up by Credit Suisse in 2014.
I caught up with one of the AGSM sponsorship winners, Teresa Basile, who’ll take part in the program that’s worth $21,000 and offers networking opportunities as well as executive education courses that can be completed at any point in the next two years. The sponsorship also helps recipients with travel and childcare related costs associated with participating in on-campus courses.
While Teresa hasn’t taken as long a career break as some of the other sponsorship recipients – she started her maternity leave just over a year ago – she still cited confidence as an issue in returning to work, and said she was surprised at herself for feeling that way.
Having left her long-term management position in the automotive industry, along with having her first child, she’s had a significant life change that left her questioning where she would go next. “I had been so focused on my career for such a long time, and then my priorities completely changed with having my daughter,” she told me. “I wasn’t sure why I was feeling that way, it surprised me. I felt I lacked a bit of confidence about getting back into it all again – especially as I’m also keen to explore other industries. Even that short amount of time being on maternity leave, I still felt like I didn’t want to be left behind.”
Theresa said that simply being told by the AGSM her application was successful, has already aided her confidence.
“Being awarded this made me feel like I am being looked at with value. That the business school looks at me as someone they want to invest in.”
In its press release announcing the sponsorship winners, AGSM said the vast majority of applicants were mothers who had taken a career break for family reasons. They cited a number of different issues preventing their career return, including the cost and availability of childcare, difficulties finding meaningful part time work, and a lack of confidence.
In 2017, a career is now expected to last a very long time, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting that 71% of those 45 and over don’t expect to retire until they are at least 65, and the current government still pushing to raise the pension age to 70. Taking a career break to have kids – whether it’s six months, one year or ten – is a small portion of time in the grand scheme of things and should not exclude parents from professional opportunities for life.
We’ll see more ‘returnship’ or ‘secondment’ style programs in the future aimed at attracting those looking to get back to work. Organisations may have no choice but to do so, should they wish to attract the best talent possible.