Six pieces of advice every woman returning to work needs to hear

Are you planning to return to work after a career break? Find out how one woman found the process, and the six pieces of advice she wants to share.

Rebecca Crabb has quite the impressive CV. She’s worked at some of the biggest banks and financial institutions across Australia, contributes to the community through several social impact committees, is currently undertaking her Masters in Leadership, and now adds Chief Operating Officer for Global Markets with Commonwealth Bank of Australia to the list.

But amongst all these amazing accomplishments, there is one small gap toward the bottom of her CV between 2003-2008. The gap is noted on her CV with one line reading:

“Career break to spend time with our four children.”

Some studies place the number of women struggling as high as 9 in 10 (88%) when it comes to difficulties re-entering the workforce after having children. So, to find this one small line hidden amidst the chronology of Rebecca’s career, makes the accomplishments after it all the more remarkable.

Rebecca’s path back to work

Returning to work in Global Markets as a Business Manager for Trading in September 2008, Rebecca found herself sitting behind the Credit Trading desks just as the Global Financial Crisis rocked the market. “It was crazy!” she remarked on the chaos that followed. But she still remembers her excitement and pride in being back in the professional realm.

Rebecca knows how difficult it can be to overcome the crippling self-doubt around returning to work but is grateful it turned out to be relatively smooth, compared to the experience of some other women. She thanks her amazing manager for this.

Describing herself as “very much a people person” with a love for solving problems, being busy and helping people, she now dedicates a lot of time and passion to paying forward the kindness and support she received by helping other women with their return to the workforce through the Careers Comeback Program. She says, “I am very passionate about making sure women feel supported and by providing an environment where they feel safe.”

What is the Careers Comeback Program?

The Institutional Banking & Markets (IB&M) division at CommBank understands the barriers women face returning to the workforce, including lack of professional networks and doubt over the relevancy of their skills.

As a result, they designed the Careers Comeback Program for experienced professionals looking to re-enter the workforce after a career break. Offering flexible work options, individually tailored to each candidate, it’s a 10-week paid “internship” with the opportunity to roll into a permanent position at the end of the program.

So far, the program has had an excellent response, and all the inaugural cohort have been offered permanent roles or contract extensions.

Six pieces of advice every woman returning to work needs to hear

Rebecca has been honored to offer her firsthand support and advice to three of the participants. She shares with us the following advice to all women looking to return to the workforce.

1) It won’t be as daunting as you think

The doubt, the anxiety, the lack of confidence in your own skills is something every returning mother goes through. But Rebecca reassures that “it won’t be as daunting as you think”.

She remembers her own anxiety and feeling like maybe she no longer had anything to offer. But after a few weeks realized she still had all the skills, these skills were still very much needed and valued, and it all clicked into place after that.

2) You have to set up your home infrastructure

Whether it’s with childcare, a nanny or an alternative stay-at-home parent or guardian, Rebecca remarks on the importance of setting up your home infrastructure. And the need to prepare back-ups too. Know if, and how, you will be able to work from home should your original plans fail.

Always take your laptop home with you, just in case your kids get sick in the night and you need to work from home the next day. These considerations are just as relevant if your role is set up as work-from-home or a hybrid model somewhere in between.

Then there’s also the redistribution of household duties and how you will share this load. “This was hard for me. It took a while to let go of feeling I had to do it all myself.”

3) Know you have the backing of your management

One of the things that attracted Rebecca to CommBank the most was their genuine dedication to flexible working. Honest conversations about the needs of employees are common and supported among the CommBank team.

Knowing it will be understood and accepted if you need to work from home or need to leave work for an appointment or child emergency is crucial to the success of returning mothers. “My son has a chronic illness, and I am never ever questioned if I need to go to an appointment. Having that support behind me is really really important.”

4) Don’t be scared to ask for what you need

Honest conversations with management also include discussing what feels right for you. Don’t feel pressured into a position that doesn’t feel right. If something feels wrong, find out what needs to change, and talk to your boss about it.

Through Rebecca’s own experience, and the experiences of those she has mentored at CommBank, she’s found women tend to put too much pressure on themselves because they’re reluctant to ask for what they need.

5) Culture is important

Be selective and do your research when it comes to choosing a workplace to return to. The other deciding factor to Rebecca taking her role with CommBank was the work they’ve done to improve their culture.

They believe in varied and empathetic leadership styles, they foster women’s support and networking groups, and they’ve launched career comeback programs. “They give everyone the ability to speak up AND be heard.”

6) It’s ok to be yourself at work

It was quite a few years ago now, but Rebecca vividly recalls attending a particular Women in Banking & Finance function. Christine Yates was speaking, and something she said became a pivotal turning point in Rebeca’s career. She said, “It’s ok to be yourself at work.”

“That really resonated with me. I’d been going to work and hiding the fact I was a mother. I didn’t ever talk about my kids. Hearing that really changed a lot of things for me personally. I didn’t feel like I had to live a double life. I could be who I was at work.”

So many things happen with kids. One minute you might be supporting the operation, strategy, and implementation of a global market business, and the next you might be racing your child to hospital with a broken ankle from an Ultimate Frisbee game. At least that’s been Rebecca’s experience.

But having a family hasn’t stopped her from being a great role model, and helping more women turn their career breaks into small footnotes, barely noticeable at the bottom of their own thriving and impressive resumes.

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