Gemma’s story – from property law to podiatry

Gemma changed career from commercial property law to podiatry. Here is her story…

I made the change to podiatry after working for ten years as a commercial property lawyer and after taking a two-year break following my second child.

When my second child was born I decided that “if a job was going to take me away from my children, then it had better be something I really care about.” After researching a number of health professions I decided podiatry offered the combination of variety and flexibility I really needed in my life – as well as the satisfaction that would come from working with patients.

Today I work for the NHS in Greenwich, treating patients at a hospital clinic and out in the community. As a podiatrist, I’ve been able to change work patterns as circumstances have evolved. I’ve just restructured my working hours to a three day a week arrangement, spread across four days. It means I am able to collect my children from school three days a week.

Many podiatrists work privately, either within existing clinics or practices, or running their own business. It’s a great career to combine with childcare as you can keep the hours you need but still make a comfortable living.

The experience of a previous career where there was a less positive work-life balance makes me really appreciate my current situation more. I would say to anyone who is working, take your job and look at what the best bits are – and I bet you there will be a career in podiatry that offers those things and more but with far fewer of the drawbacks.

To practice as a podiatrist you need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, which requires a degree in podiatry from one of 13 specialist university courses around the UK. Most school leavers will have A levels in science, but mature students – who have historically made up a large part of the intake for podiatry courses – may have alternative qualifications, as long as they can prove they meet the required standard.

I trained at the University of East London after taking evening classes and an Open University Course to get my science up to scratch. It’s not an easy transition, but a shortage of podiatrists at the moment means that newly qualified professionals are entering jobs immediately after graduating.

The more research I did into health careers, the more I realised that podiatry ticked all the boxes. I couldn’t find anything else that offered the variety: different avenues of progression with the ability to specialise, the job satisfaction in bringing immediate relief to patients and the flexibility in terms of being able to balance it with the rest of my life.

Advice from successful returners to work

Did you miss our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’ Conference this week in London? For those of you who couldn’t join us, our next few blogs will talk about the takeouts from this sellout event.

Our Returner Panel session was chaired by the wonderful Jane Garvey from BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. Five women who have successfully returned to work after a multi-year career break spoke about their experiences. Two had taken a break to care for small children, one for fostering and setting up a business, one to focus on family time with older children and one to take time out from a long career in a high-pressure role. Three had returned to work via a returnship, the other two via networks or stepping-stone roles.

Here are some of the highlights from their comments, including the panel’s advice for other women wanting to get back to work:

On where they are now:

“It’s been a revelation to me – the whole returnship process, the support the firm has provided me, the support from Women Returners and the whole promotion of the idea of being able to return to work… I managed not only to return to work but to start a whole new career in the finance industry.” 

“I didn’t know that returnships existed. I had set my standard of returning to work as ‘perhaps I could take a few steps back if someone would have me’ – I really had no expectations and not a lot of confidence that I’d be able to step back into a senior role…honestly, the programme has been transformative for me and my career.”

“It’s amazing – I didn’t think that from where I was two and a half years ago to where I am now was going to be possible.”

On how they first felt being back at work:

“It was a bit of a shock, I wanted it but it was quite challenging. The most interesting thing for me was the progression over a number of weeks. And what I learned from day one was not to crucify myself by setting totally unrealistic standards about what I wanted to achieve.”

“I think we all have that slight reservation that we’re not quite up to it or that we won’t know what to do when we (arrive) and sit down or go to a meeting. But I was amazed at how quickly it all came back. After about three weeks the senior management team were saying ‘we feel like you’ve been in the organisation for years – you’ve just fitted back in’.”
“My first day was a mixture of terror and excitement.”
“My employers were really welcoming…I was nervous about photocopiers and phone systems.”

“Don’t worry – within a week you’ll be back in the swing of it.”
“I was made to feel incredibly welcome from day one. I was given a senior woman as a mentor and meetings were set up for me to meet other people in the department.”

On setting boundaries/managing work-life balance:
“You have to decide what you’re going to do in a week, what you’re going to deliver and make sure you communicate that to people around you.”

“It’s really important for you to take responsibility (for managing boundaries). No-one is going to do that for you.”

“Don’t set unrealistic standards about what you can achieve when you first get back to work.”

On what to wear for interviews:

“A friend gave me some brilliant career advice once. He said – when you’re going for an interview don’t do things that will enable people to write you off from the beginning. If you’re going for an interview where – like it or not – they wear suits then wear a suit. Do your research.”

“For me, it’s about feeling confident. – if you feel confident in what you’re wearing that’s what’s important – and the fact that you project that confidence.”
“It’s very dependent on the workplace. I don’t think it’s to do with wearing a suit – it’s about getting the dress code right.”
“I went to the hairdresser for the first time in two years – I wanted to feel ‘put together’ and confident.”General comments/advice:

“What I would recommend is lots of positive talk to yourself in front of the mirror before you go into the interview.”

“We have to understand that we have skills – they don’t go away – they might be slightly rusty but I can reassure you that within a week you’ll be back in the swing of things and within three months you’ll feel you’ve never been away.”

“You’ve had a break, you’ve developed lots of positive behaviours and that’s what you’ve got to offer a new employer.”
“One of the women on my returner programme had been out of the workplace for 20 years and came back in and did the programme and got herself a job that she was absolutely thrilled to get and loves and is forging another career.”


Sign up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.You’ll find much more help and advice on our website.


How the O2 Career Returners Programme Helped Me

This week we are featuring an inspiring video that highlights 2 returners from the 2016 O2 Career Returners Programme, on which we partnered with O2. The video was recorded ahead of National Inclusion week, which raises awareness of the importance of inclusion in the workplace and the business benefits to having an inclusive workforce.

Paula McAleavey is a mother of two and Project Manager within the Network Futures team at O2 and Jacqueline Scott is a mother of two and Business Manager at O2.

Carla: Returning via the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent Programme

With the launch of the 2016 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent Programme, we caught up with Carla who told us all about her experience of the 2015 programme. 
I recently
returned to work after a long career break, to the Global Banking and Markets COO
group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. This was made possible through my
participation in their 2015 Returning Talent Programme.
several years of staying at home to raise my children, I began to think about
returning to the workforce last year.  During
my break, I had stayed active with a couple of board positions and a small accessories
business, which I founded and ran. However, as my children grew up, I was eager
to return to a full-time corporate role.  Previously, I had worked as an Institutional
Equity Salesperson and I wanted to find a position that was a good fit for my
skills and experience.  However, when
thinking about my return and job search, I was unclear about other areas in
financial services to target and unsure how to market myself as a
Bank of America Merrill Lynch Returning Talent Programme helped me to address
these uncertainties. The conference and follow-on coaching workshops not only provided
me with advice and information about the job search process but also gave me
the tools to consider what types of role and organisational workplace would suit
me best. This reinforced my decision to target a clearly-defined role at a large
established organisation. I also benefitted from the talks from senior female
leaders, which offered exposure to different areas of the bank and a means of
developing networking contacts.  Just as
importantly, taking part in the Programme was also a great way to meet and connect
with other returners. This created a back-to-work support system for me, which I
had found difficult to do within my regular social group and school network.
advice to other women wanting to return to a City role is:
  • Be resilient
    and open-minded to new and different opportunities
  • Take
    the time to understand what type of work will best suit you
  • Commit
    time to your job search – putting aside a couple of days a week was essential
    in keeping me focused and active
  • Focus
    on returnships and other returner programmes, like the Returning Talent
    Programme. These are an ideal platform to restart your career with a high level
    of support and resources from the organisation.

I am
delighted to be back at work in a full-time role in financial services. My
family has adjusted well to my new schedule and I would definitely encourage
others considering a return to take the step.

If you would like to apply for the 2016 programme, follow this link. The closing date for applications is Friday 18th December, 2015.
Posted by Katerina

Credit Suisse Real Returns: Q&A with a Returner

As the
application deadline for the 2015 Credit Suisse London Real Returns programme
approaches next Friday, Julianne interviewed Julia Dawson, a 2014 Real Returns
participant to find out more about her experiences and to get her advice on
applying for and making the most of a returnship. 
prompted you to apply for Real Returns?
I had
read about returnships in the United States and so knew about the concept. I
had been on a career break to raise a family for over three years and was
interested in going back into banking but not into equity sales where I had
spent the previous 11 years. The Real Returns programme at Credit Suisse seemed
to open up new opportunities, allowing me to apply my skills and experience to a
different area.
What were
the benefits to you of the Real Returns programme?
programme offered an open door back to banking with no downside and great
potential upside. The 10-week framework structured around the school terms
allowed me to trial a return to the workplace without too much disruption to my family
routines. It was an easier transition than going straight back into a
permanent role and gave me the opportunity to really show what I could
Returns gave me a lot of confidence – it was fantastic to see so many capable
women finding their feet. The peer group was a really positive aspect, as we were all in it together. There was more
involvement from very senior management than you might think – you get amazing
access as everyone was interested in finding out more about the inaugural Real
Returns cohort.
What type
of work did you do?
I led a
research project on diversity, The Credit Suisse Gender 3000, a subject that
remains very relevant and incredibly interesting. [Julia’s research report was
published in September 2014 and can be viewed here]. All the
participants were involved with business critical projects and made a
significant contribution.
support did you receive?
We had
support from the programme managers throughout the 10 weeks. In addition, each returner
was assigned a mentor – a great point-person for introductions, particularly
for people looking more broadly within the bank for opportunities. We also received
training and career coaching, which I was initially sceptical about but found
extremely rewarding and eye-opening on a personal and professional level.
happened at the end of the programme?
I was
offered a full-time job in equity research within the Thematics team. I was appointed as a Managing Director, the same level as I was prior to my career
break, so I have not had to take a step down in my career progression
at all.
advice would you give to potential applicants to Real Returns or other
Be honest
about who you are in your application and get your application in as soon as possible – you have nothing to lose
and a lot to gain. It is a wonderful way to get back to work and maybe to try
something new in a related field.
advice would you give to future returnship participants?
things made this a valuable experience for me. I would advise other
participants to network as much as possible – take the opportunities given to
you. Keep an open mind about the areas that might interest you – coming back to
work brings a great freshness and invigoration and many departments want to
take advantage of this. Make the most of the coaching sessions as they can
be very revealing and rewarding. And finally, really showcase your contribution
on the program – you are part of a
valuable talent pool so show what you can still do and have to offer.
Any final
I was
surprised how little pressure I felt once I got through the door. It was
thoroughly enjoyable and invigorating. I am extremely happy to be back at work.
If you are inspired by Julia’s experience to apply for the 2015 Real Returns programme, you can find more information and application details here. You’ll need to be quick as the application deadline is Friday 16th January.
Posted by Julianne

Return-to-work advice for Allison Pearson’s Kate Reddy

This month saw the return of Kate Reddy, Allison Pearson’s fictional working mother who started in a Telegraph column in the 1990s and ended up in the best-selling novel and Hollywood film  “I Don’t Know How She Does It”. Many of us remember the pangs of recognition in the shop-bought cakes ‘distressed’ in the middle of the night before a school cake sale, and Kate’s ultimate decision to leave her over-demanding City job to get more balance in her life.
Thirteen years later, Kate is back every Friday in the Daily Telegraph as Sandwich Woman: 49-and-a-half with two teenage children, a husband with a mid-life crisis retraining as a counsellor and frail elderly parents. And she’s about to fly the flag for women returners, returning to full-time work after a six year career break. At least we hope for a (fictional) role model, but in the first few weeks Allison Pearson has focused on the dispiriting side of returning to work, as Kate says “Amazing how fast all the confidence you built up over a career ebbs away”. So far our heroine has been patronised by a dismissive headhunter when she targets a non-exec role, wondered whether anyone will want to employ her and she’s decided to lie about her age & her recent experience …
Allison Pearson says she is bringing Kate back to show other ‘sandwich women’ that they are not alone in their struggles. So we decided that it’s time to get Kate on track for her return to work with some words of motivation and advice:
1. Your timing is great. Businesses are waking up to the fact that returners are a high-calibre talent pool and are actively targeting them. The 2014 innovation of ‘returnship’ programmes is aimed at women like you (see here for more details) and many are in City firms. And Goldman Sachs stated this month in the FT that they are actively targeting their alumnae for senior roles.
2. After a long break you are not a ‘square peg fitting into a square hole’ so avoid most headhunters and recruitment agencies. The exception is firms who specialise in flexible working &/or women returners (try Sapphire Partners if you’re looking for a non-exec role).
3. Don’t lie on your CV! You don’t need to reveal your age as CVs no longer include date of birth (or gender & marital status). And miss out your decades-old school qualifications. Include voluntary or paid work and studies during your break experience where they (honestly!) used or developed your professional skills.
4. Focus on building your network of contacts. You’ve only been away for 6 years and your old colleagues will remember you as a highly talented senior manager. Set up a (brief) LinkedIn profile, connect with ex-colleagues and get into the City to meet them for coffee. Look for university and organisational alumni groups too. Tell everyone you know that you want to get back to a corporate role – you never know who might be able to help.
5. Above all don’t undervalue yourself. Focus on the benefits your age can bring to an employer: maturity, stability and a huge amount of training and experience which will enable you to get back up to speed very quickly once you’ve got your foot back in the door. We have many success stories of women who have got back into satisfying roles & hope that your imminent successful return will inspire many more!

Update 31/10/14: Great to see Kate is now taking the contacts route to finding a new job!

Posted by Julianne

Where are the role models of successful women returners?

“Is it really possible to get back into work after I’ve been out so long? I don’t know anyone who’s done it apart from a few friends who have retrained as teachers.”

Janice’s comment echoes the feeling of many women I talk to who are thinking about going back after a long career break. We look around and the world seems to divide between friends and colleagues who have never taken a long break and those who are on a career break and are not showing much inclination to return to the workplace. “Do you know of any finance directors (lawyers/marketing managers/…) who have successfully returned to work after many years out?” is a question we’re often asked. If you don’t know any examples of women similar to yourself who have made the transition back to fulfilling work, you can start to question if it is possible.

Why don’t I know more role models of successful returners?

Partly it’s a question of timing. Before the 1980’s there just weren’t that many professional women (eg. in 1971 4% of UK lawyers were female; in 2009 it was 43%*). The 1970’s ‘career women’ were less likely to give up their hard-won professions to care for their children or elderly parents. It was the highly-qualified women who began their working lives in the more equal 1980’s, or later, who felt confident enough in the 1990’s and 2000’s to take extended career breaks. So it was only in the mid 2000’s that the phenomenon of professional women returners started to be noticed in the US**. As we are still in the early days of finding routes back in to the workplace, it is not surprising that examples of successful returners can seem few and far between. This doesn’t mean you can’t find them, it just means you have to look a bit harder.

Why is it important for us to have role models? (the psychology bit)

According to psychologist Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory, having role models has a major effect on our belief in our ability to succeed in a certain situation (our ‘self-efficacy’). If we see people similar to ourselves succeeding in what we want to do, then we are more likely to believe we have the capabilities to do this too and to cope with inevitable setbacks. If we have a weak sense of self-efficacy we quickly lose confidence in our abilities, become more negative and are more likely to give up on our goals.

Where can I find more role models?

  1. Ask your friends/colleagues if they know anyone who has returned to work after a long break and who seems to be happy and fulfilled with their work-life.
  2. Check your LinkedIn contacts: some people list ‘career break’ as a role.
  3. I think that the many success stories on the US iRelaunch website are one of the best sources of ‘Look it can be done’ inspiration.
  4. As Katerina & I thought it would be great to have a bank of UK successes, we are starting to collect UK returner stories which we will include on our website.

Do you know any women professionals who have successfully returned to work … or are you a possible role model yourself? If so do get in touch. We’re not just looking for the high-flying returners, more a range of women who are back at work and happy with the work-family choices they have made.

* Alison Wolf, The XX Factor, 2013 ** Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Off-Ramps & On-Ramps, 2007

Posted by Julianne