I was privileged to speak at an event hosted by Women Restart and HerStory on the weekend. It was humbling to meet so many great women who got together on a Saturday morning to share their experiences with each other. The conversations ranged from the key challenges women typically face while restarting after a break (often for childcare), to the initiatives that organisations are taking to attract and onboard women-on-a-break back into the workforce.
Here are four tips, which I think are essential, for women restarters.
- Restarting is a project
First things first – getting back to work is a project and you need to do your homework. Take a decision that you are going to do this. Give yourself a timeline for each activity. Review your skills and strengths. Be clear about the functions (and jobs) that you will apply for. Identify organisations that have dedicated ‘restart programmes’. Shortlist four or five companies that you will target for jobs. Do not blindly send your resume to a ‘contact’ in a company; check whether there are relevant jobs in the organisation before you share your resume. If needed, customise your resume based on the job opening and the organisation. And, of course, do reach out to enabling organisations like Women Restart who can help partner with you on this project.
- Change your Network
It is critical that you expand your network to include women who have restarted and are working and even those who never took a break. This will help you understand the views of both these groups, the different strategies they employed and the challenges they face. It will make you realise that you are not alone and all of us are ‘making this work’ on a day-to-day basis.
In parallel with expanding your network, you also need to ‘mute’ some of your older networks. This means letting go of Whatsapp and Facebook groups, where a majority of women are not working or not thinking about restarting. While you probably get (relevant) information from these groups, you should not draw inspiration and energy from them. Figure out a way, to make these “opt-in groups”, i.e. a group you reach out to if and when you have time. Remember that your time and mental energy are limited and the more you can let go, the more you will be in control.
- Stay proud
Often women are concerned about the ‘gap’ in their resumes and spend hours worrying about how best to account for the gap. The reality is that it is only a ‘gap’ if you feel and believe it is a gap. You need to think about the gap as a conscious choice that you made to prioritise childcare over, for example, a job at a particular point in time. It is just like now you are making a choice to get back to work. Take pride in the fact that you chose to dedicate a period of time to take care of your children with complete devotion. The same pride and confidence will reflect in your answers if someone asks you about the gap during an interview.
- Manage your ‘guilt’
It is hard to be a mom and not feel guilty about the time you spend with your children. Something that helps me is a clear ‘short’ list of non-negotiables, e.g. “I will read everyday to my four-year old son.” Preferably I read to him at bedtime. When I can’t because I am late at work or have to join a call at that time, I make up for it by reading to him in the morning. I also have a list of things that I have chosen to not do because I am human and can only do so much in a day. In my case, this includes cooking and feeding my son. I have hired help and a supporting network that helps me through a ‘long’ list of things I have chosen not to do. This list has evolved over time and will continue to evolve as my son grows-up and his needs change. But I stick to my list and don’t feel guilty (on most days). Letting go of guilt can go a long way in helping you take the decision to restart and, also, continue working.
Women’s issue or a work-life issue?
Lastly, we need to start the conversation about ‘managing life while working’, which is relevant to both men and women in the workforce. For this, we (both men and women) must keep the conversation alive and talk about these matters with our employers, partners and organisational leaders. We must contribute to diversity initiatives at the workplace and help other women navigate their careers – with or without breaks. We must sensitise employees about the responsibilities of employees of different age groups and genders. We must create programs that enable primary caregivers to provide ‘care’ while continuing to be a material part of the workforce – otherwise, as Anne Marie Slaughter rather poignantly wrote in the New York Times, we might end up contributing to building organisations where only the young and childless truly succeed in their careers.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)