The pitfalls of being a working mother are well documented; the guilt, the logistics, the childcare costs. Need I go on?
Fortunately, change is afoot and the ascent of flexible working, annualised or compressed hours and job sharing is beginning to make a tangible difference to the lives of those with young families.
However, throw a lengthy career break into the mix and despite all of these cultural and technological advances, returning to work post-children can feel more challenging than persuading a toddler it's time to leave the soft play area.
Clearly, it shouldn't have to be that way. Parenting involves honing or developing lots of new skills such as time management and diplomacy, not to mention a new-found appreciation for the peace and serenity of an office environment.
But in some corners, there remains a sense that once someone is out of the workplace, their skills are no longer relevant or they are somehow disadvantaged.
There are highly skilled, qualified women (and men for that matter) who want to return to work after maternity or paternity leave recharged and refocused to the advice profession and the financial services sector. They do this because they are seeking intellectual fulfilment and professional challenge, and to assume otherwise might be laughable if it wasn’t so tiresome.
In my own experience, I was fortunate to find a boutique fund manager without such prejudice seeking to hire based on attitude, aptitude and cultural fit, as well as skillset. My employer made it clear that so long as the work was complete, they could be flexible on hours.
Upon receiving an offer, I negotiated a working pattern I felt comfortable with and both parties now benefit from a loyal, committed employee with a happy work/life balance.
Looking at my experience, here are some things firms should consider when supporting someone returning to work, as well as some tips for those considering going back to work after a break.
Firstly, returners may need to build up their confidence. It can be very easy for negative voices to creep in, and they may be wondering whether things moved on too much since they were last at work, or whether they can hack the pace. So building confidence will be key and it is vital to remind the individual that they took years to build up their skills and that they are still extremely valuable.
Yet it may still be worth refreshing those skills, perhaps through online courses that will help a returning team member brush up on existing abilities and learn some new ones. Set aside some time to bed the returner back in so they can focus wholly on catching up and brushing up their skills.
For those returning to work but not to your former employer, update your LinkedIn and go for the premium service. It doesn’t cost much but allows you to link up with and message more potential employers, plus it shows you’re serious. Change your settings to ‘available to recruiters’ and perhaps add ‘seeking new opportunities’ to your profile.
It's also worth tapping up your old contacts – meet up for a coffee and ask if they will keep an ear to the ground for you. Employers would always prefer a referral to paying through a recruiter.
Returners programmes also have a role to play in supporting working parents. The numbers of these are soaring and they can offer a solid, structured route back to the workplace.
There's a temptation for working parents to only apply for roles that are advertising part-time hours or flexible working. As a firm, add to the job posting that the contract/terms are negotiable so as not to turn off those who need that flexibility. This can be discussed and negotiated once you are ready to make an offer to the candidate.
There are still those with preconceived ideas about working mothers, and perhaps working parents more generally. The best prepared, most focused candidates will blow those people away.
Where someone is making a request for flexible working, there should be a strong, reasoned case for this. As an employer, you won't want someone to go into the details of how little Evie really wants to do ballet on a Wednesday and so they need to be there to watch her perfect the grand jeté.
Instead, it's about both sides explaining how you will make it work, the ratio of time spent where, what technology is needed and how it will be successful. This should empower people to make the role their own and focus their mind on the value they will add.
Finally, and most importantly, when someone does land that golden, coveted role, the guilt of the working parent is somewhat inevitable.
Be supportive of this. Be considerate and try not to ask the them to take calls during hours they are not contracted for.
Be flexible where possible and don’t pile on the pressure - the reason they have asked for flexibility is so they can be present for their kids. Taking a conference call at bath time three times a week renders that flexibility pointless and they’ll be a better, more focused employee for having a happy work/life balance.
Whether someone is working because they have to financially or whether you’re choosing to, there are things firms can do to support and encourage those returning to work after a career break.
We need more clever, dynamic people building successful careers in the advice profession - not just for the benefit of the sector, but to be inspiring models for the next generation too.