What inspired you to set up She’s Back?
I began my working life as an accountant, with Arthur Andersen but quickly moved into management consulting, where I made partner. When the firm was bought by Deloitte, I took an internal role and became Director of Brand and Communication. My career became derailed when I had young children and just couldn’t combine the long hours and travel with family life. I a career break which ended up lasting 8 years.
I was listening to the radio one day. It was the Woman’s Hour power list. It made me think “What happened to my career?” I had a twenty year career behind me but more importantly I looked at the twenty years ahead and thought “What next?”
I realised there were hundreds, if not thousands of women like me, from sectors as far apart as law and advertising, who had stepped back from successful careers, perhaps in their late thirties, and who probably, a few years later, were ready to return. I knew from personal experience how daunting that felt. I also felt passionately that these women have fabulous talent and experience. I decided to set up She’s Back to do something about it.
What talents and skills do you feel businesses are currently missing out on, or not spotting in women?
The biggest thing businesses are missing is that women’s careers often take different trajectories from those of men. Up to the age of 34 or so, I was a high flier and my career went just as fast as my male colleagues. Then I started to think about having children. It wasn’t as easy as I thought, and four years later I was divorced with a couple of rounds of IVF behind me. When I eventually re-married and found myself accidentally pregnant I was thrilled. I continued to work but not at the same pace.
Even when women don’t go through that exact experience, having young children and keeping a career on track can be challenging. Sometimes, women want to tread water or step back a little. Businesses just lets them go, without realising that those self same women might want to return with renewed energy and ambition a few years later. The opportunities to return are few and far between.
Business then misses out on the diversity of thought that comes with having a team that has a real mix of life experiences. Not to mention the folly of employing a team of men to design products and services that will ultimately be bought by women. 75% of buying decisions worldwide are made by women. And we’re not just talking about buying the groceries. Women increasingly are making the decisions about which house to buy and which car to buy.
How do you support women who want to return to work?
Our book She’s Back: Your guide to returning to work is a very practical guide that shows women exactly what they need to do. It explains why the system is currently not set up to help, which means they don’t feel alone, and arms them with the information and tools they need.
It’s honest, practical and full of real case studies and examples – not super-women but superb real women, who have managed to get their careers back on track. Like Jenni who returned to teaching after a 12 year break. There are also men in it too.
We also have a very supportive She’s Back facebook group where women in and out of work provide each other with advice and support.
It’s had 28 five star reviews on Amazon, so it’s not just me saying it’s good.
Describe some of your recent campaigns and their impact?
We’re doing a book tour at the moment and we’re speaking to women who are in work as well as those who are looking to return.
At a large professional services firm, we spoke to around 60 – 70 mid career women. We talk a lot about needing to treat careers and motherhood like a game of chess – with our message being that you need to play the long game. Having very young children is a “temporary condition”. They won’t be young forever and if you make sacrifices when they are, that’s fine, but make sure you are putting pieces in place to help you reclaim your career when you’re ready.
After one recent talk, a couple of participants came up to me and said they had been about to quit because they felt that going part time was having a detrimental impact on how they were being perceived. They said that now, instead of quitting, they were going to do other things – such as spending time building a powerful network within the firm – so that people knew despite their current limitations, they still were ambitious for the long term.
That was very satisfying.
Equality is a buzz word. Are we there yet?
In some ways yes, of course. We absolutely ARE equal. Do we always get equal pay and equal opportunity? The evidence suggests not.