The Real Journey

How long is ‘too long’ to be out of the office? Some of us may sneak the blackberry into the holiday suitcase; others are able to ‘switch off.’ But at what point do we feel like we have ‘missed out’ or ‘lost touch’ with workplace developments? Returning from maternity leave or an extended career break can be difficult and even a bit scary. But many are seeking paid work alongside familial commitments. Indeed , in a study by the Office for National Statistics, the number of married or cohabiting mothers in the workplace has risen from 3.8 million to 4.2 million since 1996 .

With more mothers returning to work, there is increased awareness of the challenges that this may present for employee and employer. Opportunity Now’s recent research Project 28-40 has found that 66% of respondents felt they actually have to choose between developing their career and meeting their family responsibilities.  The large-scale survey’s interim results (full report out on 2 April) found that 45% feel their workplace does not offer equality of opportunity to advance between women who have children, and women who do not have children. This highlights barriers for women and men who have a foot in the door, and can appear insurmountable when walking up even to start knocking.

Some organisations have attached a bell. Credit Suisse, Opportunity Now Champion,has created a new pilot program called Real Returns and help facilitate their transition back into the workforce.  As a paid employment program that runs for 8 to 10 weeks, returners have the opportunity to work on an important short-term assignment and really make an impact by working on a business initiative with clearly defined objectives and measureable goals, aligned to candidates existing skills.

Research carried out by the Work and Family Show flags that one in five working mothers feels less confident in their professional abilities after a period off for maternity. Real Returners offers candidates an opportunity to upgrade their technology skills, and ‘reconnect’ their professional networks enabling relationship building across the bank. Returners receive support throughout the program and are ‘buddied up’ with a project manager who provides guidance and support in their day to day project work.

A key element to these opportunities is choice. It is important that women and men have options and a choice to reenter paid work or not. With 200,000 women, in two parent families, reentering the workplace since 2011, at least you won’t be alone.