'Until you're out of the workforce, you have no idea how hard it is to return'

‘Until you’re out of the workforce, you have no idea how hard it is to return’

Three years ago the Sydney-based consultant, Fran Caratti, adopted her niece after her sister passed away.

“She was my sister’s daughter who had grown up in Perth,” Caratti explains. “She came to live with us when she was only 6 and my husband and I made the decision to adopt her.”

Caratti and her husband had three children of their own and decided to step out of the workforce to make the transition as smooth as possible for the whole family.

“We agreed my career would take a backseat for a little while because I needed to support all of our children and help my niece get settled,” she says. “I wanted to be there to pick her up from school, help her with her homework, and offer her the stability of a loving home.”

After almost three years not working, at the beginning of this year, Caratti felt like it was the right time to return.

“My youngest was really settled so I started sending out my CV but I wasn’t having much success,” she says. “Until you are out of the workforce you have no idea how hard it can be to get back in.”

Caratti’s professional experience has been incredibly diverse. She started her career as a nurse before doing an MBA and then began consulting in health in London. “I then went into Private Equity focusing on hospitality before I took on a senior executive role with a prominent chef and grew his business globally for five years.”

She took various short breaks for each of her children and during one of those breaks she did the company directors course.

“Coming back in at manager level was difficult, as I had come from a more senior background,” Caratti says.

She saw something on LinkedIn about the EY Reconnect program, that was aimed at recruiting women who had been on career breaks, that had been shared by a friend.

“I called her and asked if I’d be a suitable applicant,” she says. Her friend said she would be so Fran applied.

“My first thought was that this organisation is already valuing the skills of women who have had a career break and I was just hoping for a foot in the door.”

She went through the recruitment process and was offered a spot on the program that began in July this year along with seven other women.

The EY Reconnect program, is a ‘returnship’ of sorts, that was designed to address the roadblocks associated with re-entering the workforce, offering senior-level training and individual support to women who have been out of the workforce for several years or more. In 2017, 77% of participants were offered permanent positions.

“We were all at different stages and I’d had one of the shorter breaks – one woman had been out of the workforce for 10 years,” Caratti says. “We all started 4 days a week and really supported each other in making the return.”

At the conclusion of the program Caratti was offered a permanent position as a manager in EY’s Markets and Business Development team, helping to develop the company’s business strategy.

“It can be difficult to re-enter the workforce at a more junior position, but it’s how you get your teeth stuck into working life again,” she says. “With support from the right organisation, you can rise to your former position again or explore new opportunities in your field with the right training and support to adapt to the current working environment.”

Fran says when she told friends she was joining a ‘Big 4’ employer she was warned about the hours.

“Everyone said ‘Oh the hours will be horrendous, you’ll never see the kids’ but the company is actually serious about flexibility,” she says. “It’s up to the individual to take it up. You are the only person who will make that flexibility work and you have to become your own boss.”

She believes setting firm boundaries on her time at work has enabled her to balance her new job with her family.

“Setting good boundaries and sticking to them is crucial to success for women returning to work flexibly; your instinct might be to offer to jump in and lend a hand wherever necessary, but people actually respect boundaries and strength of character. It’s a matter of discipline, but it allows many women with a strong work ethic to find the right balance between having time with their family and an interesting career.”

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