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Women Returning vs Career Conformity

When you hear the term “Women Returner” what image comes to mind? Perhaps a mother keen to return to an adult environment and jump back onto her career ladder, or maybe a daughter who has taken leave to care for an elderly parent or simply someone who has been out of the workplace for some time, whose experience has become a little out of date.

Let me share with you my experience as a Women Returner, which was an unexpected journey in navigating bias and prejudice. I really can’t pretend to have ever faced discrimination before. I studied Sciences through school, Pure Maths at Trinity College Dublin, started my career as a Software Engineer – all male dominated spaces but I always let my ability and performance drive my progress. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with my male peers, have been treated as an equal and have always been rewarded as an equal.

So, when I found myself 2 years ago being overlooked when applying for roles – job applications rejected, or more usually simply ignored – it was quite a shock. For the first time in my professional career, I was now being seen as different and my experience was not relevant, my qualifications were overlooked, my well-crafted CV (in my view at least!) showing career progress and ambition was getting no responses. But what changed? What could I had done to have created such change in opinion on my potential for roles?

Sadly, it was a change in my circumstances which many women experience in life. I had taken a career break. It was in fact a terrifying experience, what if I never got another role again? I worried that I’d made a terrible decision taking a career break and unknowingly ripped apart my hard-won and successful career. The impact was profound, and my confidence was shaken to the core and I was left without a clear path forward.

Two key things happened for me:

  1. I got a little – ok perhaps a lot – angry with the situation and reminded myself of all of the good learning during that time, for example I completed a short-term contract teaching Maths in St Mary’s Ascot, a top boarding school for girls in the UK – and teaching was an unparalleled period of growth for me. Standing in front of 20 ambitious and intelligent girls I recognised this experience was evidence of my adaptability, presentation skills, communication skills. So I reassessed my CV and thought about the experience I have GAINED through the career break, rather than lost.
  2. I found Women Returners (now Career Returners) – I feel so grateful to find this incredible organisation who are uniquely convinced of the value of the diverse experience women returning to the workplace can bring to organisations. They were so helpful both in encouraging me to find my confidence again but also practically – they hold workshops which support candidates through all of the steps in applying for a role from CV Writing workshops through to Career Fairs which connect employees seeking Women Returners.

The light and determination switched back on for me at this point – I felt confident and gained ambition once again that I could find a great role. I was convinced in myself and my potential, I was a good candidate with good experience and with the support of Women Returners I quickly found a whole list of employers who were keen to support my return to work.

Happily, from this point and after only a short search, I found a role as Product Owner with Northern Trust, within the Capital Markets group. I feel incredibly fortunate to have found a team who had the ambition to seek genuine diversity. From the first day in my new role my team sought to identify and leverage my experience – executive leadership reached out to me and were excited to support my return to work but also understand how my diverse experience could support their organisation.

My return to work has been an unexpected rollercoaster and after almost 2 years I feel excited about my progress and future. I have been given the opportunity to really contribute to the business and am now embarking on an Advanced Leadership course which is funded by my employer. My outcome has ultimately been positive for me; however, it was a much more challenging experience than I had anticipated, and it does leave me considering how recruitment into major organisations really needs to evolve.

Recent research shared by Career Returners shows:

  • 40% recruiter bias against a CV gap
  • 92% of returners find it challenging to return to a professional role.

I have never faced discrimination before, but I can personally attest to the mountain I climbed to return to work as a qualified experienced professional.

It leaves me concerned for others in a similar position and the value that organisations are missing. Lets hope that diversity, equity and inclusion can encompass career diversity over career conformity as another point of positive difference.