Professionals who have taken a career break often face barriers to re-entering the workforce. For women in particular, it can be challenging to continue achieving their professional goals after a break – and this contributes to the leadership gender gap in Australian businesses. The 2019 Women’s Agenda Women’s Ambition Report found women are ambitious – they want to earn more money (37%) and get promotions (30%) – but many who have taken career breaks are not optimistic about their current return to work options.
To empower those who have taken a career break, accelerate their post-break leadership careers and build their career capital for a return to the workforce, AGSM @ UNSW Business School introduced the Career Comeback Sponsorships program in 2017 to support highly qualified people to re-enter the Australian workforce after time away. Each Career Comeback Sponsorship recipient selected a development pathway from AGSM Executive Education short courses, receiving an AGSM Certificate in Executive Management and Development if they completed the required amount of course credits.
In 2019 AGSM will award up to 30 Career Comeback Sponsorships. Each will include a newly designed three-day AGSM ‘Design Your Career Comeback’ short course, access to an exclusive Career Comeback Network, a professional community offering AGSM content, development opportunities, networking events, and career consultation and advice.
Amy Radel was a participant in the 2017 program, having spent eight years out of the workforce to focus on raising a young family. To do so, she stepped away from a 15-year career working in strategic marketing, customer experience and commercial roles in blue chip financial services organisations.
“I took a break for my first child, then a second came, and soon we had three children under five. During that time my husband’s career was taking off, and involved lots of travel, so we made the decision for our family to travel with his work,” says Amy. “It was an amazing life experience, and it offered a very different perspective from the corporate world I came from.”
It had never been her plan to take an eight-year break from her professional career. “I still managed to use many of my professional skillsets at home – rapid problem solving, constant negotiation and juggling an incredibly busy schedule.”
But by the time 2017 arrived, she was itching to get back into her career. “I started talking to leaders and colleagues I’d previously worked with,” she recalls. At the same time, her husband was taking a course at AGSM. “He sent me a link about the Career Comeback program, the day it was closing. I very quickly sent off an application and within a week I was told I was successful.”
Access to thought leaders and career inspiration
Amy describes the program as having both tangible and intangible benefits. For the 2017 intake, recipients could undertake a number of courses that lead to them receiving an AGSM Certificate in Executive Management and Development (CEMD).
“The certificate is obviously a tangible benefit, but there are so many other benefits that come through networking and gaining access to the AGSM Careers team,” says Amy.
Shortly after receiving the sponsorship, Amy was sitting in the AGSM 2017 Professional Forum, and felt she was right where she needed to be.
“On the program was Julie Trell, Global Head of muru-D, and she described her ‘boundary-less’ career,” she said. At this event, Trell spoke about her journey from café worker to teacher, to leading the pro bono arm at Salesforce and her recently appointed role with Telstra’s start up hub muru-D. “She set the tone for my Career Comeback experience as an inspirational woman following a non-linear path.”
Through the program, Amy also attended the annual Women in Leadership event where she enjoyed an intimate audience with Roni Kahn, Founder of Oz Harvest and Jane Huxley, the then Managing Director of Spotify.
“At every AGSM event, there is an amazing opportunity to learn from and interact with academic experts, commercial and industry leaders and entrepreneurs,” says Amy. After being out of the workforce for several years, these events were like a crash course on leadership and the current state of business, helping Amy identify where the opportunities might be and understand how she needed to position herself.
“The operating environment has shifted globally and locally. 10 years ago we were all signing onto Facebook – since then we have seen the growth of social media, advances in technology, the growth of disruptors, and consumers are more empowered than ever before,” she says.
With the help of the AGSM Career Development Centre, Amy also opened her mind up to seeking new opportunities, outside of the familiar realm of blue-chip financial services. Her first role back into the workforce was a 12-month contract with the College of Complementary Medicine.
“I took a leap of faith. It was totally different to anything I’ve ever done, but it allowed me to test the waters of how I wanted to return to work – the type of role which would challenge me and whether it was part-time or full-time,” said Amy.
Reframing challenges as boundary-less opportunities
Now Amy is ready for her next opportunity. “The market is more dynamic than ever, and I’m instinctively drawn to data and customer insights, so I’ve started reaching out to my networks to see what opportunities are out there.”
AGSM is committed to building capacity for women to reach their leadership potential. By running Career Comeback again in 2019, the bespoke program has been designed to address the barriers identified in the 2017 Career Comeback applications the 2017 and 2019 Women’s Agenda Ambition Report, to enable women and men on a career break to re-establish or accelerate their careers.
“I would recommend anyone to participate in this program,” says Amy. “Through the lens of the AGSM’s always be learning philosophy, the program has given me the chance to reflect on my strengths, hone new areas of expertise, to gain clarity on what I love to do and the drive to push out of my comfort zone to challenge myself further. It has helped reframe any challenges as boundary-less opportunities.”
The AGSM will offer up to 30 Career Comeback sponsorships to successful applicants seeking to accelerate their leadership and business capability ahead of a career comeback after a period out of the workforce.