The attendees – 22 women who stepped back from their careers after their first, second, or frequently third child – shared their personal stories of climbing on and off and back onto the career lattice. We were also fortunate to have superwoman Nathalie Dubreuil share her amazing journey from global financier to stay-at-home mom to licensed clinical psychologist…no small feat!
The over-subscribed event highlighted three common themes in the women’s experience:
Unpaid work IS work
If you interviewed a candidate for a job in your organisation and he spoke of: successfully managing significant budgets; devising and executing large campaigns that increased revenue 50% year-over-year; managing dozens to hundreds of people who often have competing priorities; and leading diverse teams over whom he has no formal authority (and therefore had to lead via influence and persuasion), you might think you had a professional rock star in your midst.
But too often, when a woman does all that for free, somehow it doesn’t “count”.
Nearly every woman in the room at our Returner’s Breakfast has been actively involved in unpaid work that utilises the same skills that once garnered our pay checks – project and people management, sales, fundraising, leadership, program and content development, strategic communications, and negotiation, to name a few. While some potential employers have appropriately recognised the value and relevance of this experience, some women have found it undervalued or even completely discounted when they attempt to re-enter the workforce (or by members of society in general).
Let’s be clear: unpaid work IS work. If schools, clubs, charities, and other organisations had to pay for all the work being done by volunteers, many would not be able to afford to continue to operate as successfully as they currently do.
Confidence is King (well, Queen, in this case)
Another theme among the Returners was confidence – or the lack thereof, actually. Most people have been taught from a young age to be proud of a job well done, and a pay check is an irrefutable validation of the value of your work. When a person spends months to years without that external validation, however, it can chip away at one’s confidence. Advances in technology, changes in one’s previous industry, and discrimination by past or potential employers can further erode one’s sense of relevance and worth in the workplace. What many Returners seemed to need is a boost in confidence and the support network to sustain it.
Just say “Yes!”
Despite the obstacles, the women at the breakfast left motivated by the stories of success and reinvention and a sense of camaraderie. One key take-away was the advice one Returner had received and passed along: Just say “Yes!” to opportunities. Even if you feel intimidated. Even if you are not sure it’s the right opportunity. Even if you aren’t clear how it fits into your grand plan (or what your grand plan even is). If you are stuck looking for a place to start, or stuck trying to get to the next thing, find an opening and take it. Even getting your foot back in the door is a step forward.