There is always a lot of talk around women needing to back themselves and gain more confidence when returning to work after a career break.
I actually believe that everyone has a role to play in minimising confidence loss during a career break. And it begins from the moment a women starts her career break.
Let me explain.
Work is extremely important to everyone in providing a sense of purpose. And whether we like it or not society values a title. We imply wealth, knowledge, intellect, ambition and power to a title before we even know the person. If you say you are a stay at home mum it comes with none of the above.
This is often played out as women progress through their career breaks. The all too often asked question “what do you do” provides the first stumbling block, where you find conversation's rarely move into anything deeper then children related matters. Often you also find that no one draws on your experience or skills. It’s never personal, but you don’t generally get a seat in the “business” talk conversations.
The other factors are more subtle but the ever present social commentary; the jokes about coffee, shopping and tennis filling a mothers day – not funny.
Or the good natured “but you’re so busy juggling the family how can you possibly manage a job” or “why not just get a local part time admin job to fill in the day”. Really? These comments slowly erode confidence and self-belief.
Taking a career break to raise your children/ care for parents/ illness or whatever the factors are, shouldn’t by default make you irrelevant just because you don’t have a title. Generally people on a career break develop a broad range of skills, take on new challenges, embrace change and can bring back valuable insights to organisations once they are ready to return.
Encouragement is crucial to transitioning back. I wanted to use another word, but it’s as simple as it sounds. Having people go into bat for you, believe in you and your skills is imperative. If you know someone who is on a career break maybe ask them their opinion relating to their expertise, listen and support their ideas, let them know about an event coming up in their industry, or forward them an article that may be of interest. Don’t assume they don’t want to talk about business or other topical issues or their day is 100% focused on children.
My main message is that many professional and ambitious women press pause on their career aspirations, not eject. Transitioning back would be made easier if we collectively placed more value on the role of raising children and provided encouragement. Just because we don’t have a title does not imply less capability, ambition or motivation to lead, innovate and drive change in the workforce.