It’s hard to believe that a young woman leaving school today will have 17 different employers in her lifetime, and five different careers. And whilst five careers may not seem realistic to a woman in her mid-career today, a handful of career pursuits over a 52 year career is certainly feasible.
Let’s unpack this a little further. 52 years in the workforce seems like a long time, but when you consider that you are likely to start paid work in your late teens or early twenties, and retire from all work in your late 60’s or early 70’s, the maths quickly adds up. 52 years, give or take a few years either side, is a fairly accurate estimate of a woman’s career tenure.
Now, let’s consider taking a temporary career break from this career. When you employ a big-picture perspective, devoting 5, 10, or even 15 years to raise children, is hardly something that should derail a career with a half-century timeline.
But the reality is, it does, and it can. We all too often see the derailment of a woman’s confidence after she takes a career break. Women who previously commanded impressive salaries, solved problems, led teams of people and contributed enormous value to organisations. Women who now question their commercial worth and their ability to return to the workforce in a powerful, meaningful and rewarding way. What should, and could be a temporary, career-and-life-enhancing investment of time, can become a catalyst for career delay, career derailment and even career abandonment.
The obstacles to being a working mamma
Yes, employers have a lot to answer for. Short-sighted recruitment decisions and lack of flexible work arrangements not only rob women of reaching their potential, they also rob industry of much-needed innovation, leadership and productivity. It’s well-accepted that women working in flexible arrangements are the most productive segment of our workforce, yet many employers still display a reluctance to recruit highly-engaged mothers.
Yes, governments have a lot to answer for. Our sub-optimal childcare support system falls short in facilitating both parents to integrate work and home life in a sustainable way, whenever they are ready to. Lower maternal workforce participation and under-employment also burdens the economy when it results in poor superannuation accumulation by women over multiple decades.
Read more about getting back to work:
- How parenthood continues to cost women more than men
- “Find your brave”: How to change careers after you have kids
- Don’t write us off: Here’s why stay-at-home mums deserve that job interview
Our society has a lot to answer for too. Without playing the game blame, study after study reports the over-investment in domestic labour by working mothers and the comparative under-investment by their partners. This trend is often coupled with burnout, decreased wellbeing and relationship breakdown.
The media isn’t much help either. Motherhood is often depicted as either hyper-intensive, or disconnected, and often fails to share the stories of women who successfully integrate engaged-parenting with career engagement.
But here’s the thing
Despite the external dynamics that can make it hard to return to meaningful and fulfilling work after a career break to care for kids, the key to rebuilding confidence in one’s ability, remains in the hands of the woman herself. Self-efficacy, more readily known as self-confidence, is one of psychology’s most well-researched concepts and what we do know, is that the most powerful source of confidence-building will always be your own experience of achievement in life, coupled with self-attribution (attributing your success to something you did).
If women are to return to fulfilling and rewarding careers, despite the external challenges they may face, one big contributing factor to making it happen, remains with them. Improved self-confidence enhances mental health, enables problem solving and perhaps most relevant in a return-to-work context, promotes resilience and persistence towards goals in the face of challenges. Re-building confidence is the foundation of any successful return to work plan.
Take a big-picture perspective
Will there be hurdles and hoops to jump through? Maybe. Will returning to work require re-education, compromise and rejection? Probably. Will it require grit and resilience when you secure a role when your old peers are now in much more senior roles? You bet. But if you take a bigger-picture perspective, you’ll see that the transition is only temporary, and that you have more time than you think to reach the role you’ve been dreaming of.
There are two simple confidence-enhancing things you can do right now to rebuild the confidence you need to return to work and to thrive while you’re there. Firstly, get back in touch with your career and life achievements so far and forget humility as you attribute these successes to your specific strengths, abilities and actions. The more specific you can be, the better. Secondly, adopt a big-picture perspective. See your career break for what it actually is; a temporary, career-and-life-enhancing investment of your time.
Resist the temptation to focus on the short term, and you’ll see that you have up to twenty (or more) years of a meaningful career ahead of you. Don’t base your career decisions only on what you can see today, and you’ll have a better chance of taking action toward the direction of your dreams.
This post was originally published on SheThrives.org
If you’ve had time off work to raise your children and are starting to feel like you have the headspace to take on some work again, you should register for their next 4 week Career Clarity Program that will help you find a career that aligns with what matter most to you. Register now – the first 100 to register get $100 off, plus are eligible to enter to win a SheThrives Scholarship if you register by 30 September. Just use the promo code pb1018 when you register.