One thing’s for sure, ex Andersen partner, Lisa Unwin is a force to be reckoned with.
As founder of the boutique consultancy, She’s Back, Lisa’s own personal career trajectory has been almost star spangled in its ascendance. As a former partner with Arthur Andersen Business Consulting and Director of Brand and Communication at Deloitte, Lisa had a 20-year career in professional services prior to setting up She’s Back.
It seems her previous career has, somewhat unwittingly, set up the framework for her successful return to the top of her second career consulting and campaigning to highlight the opportunity in other women who have taken breaks and are ready to return.
‘She’s Back’ was founded in 2014 and enables businesses to access the unique talent in women returning to work after an extended career break.
Initially unsure of what she wanted to do following her own career break, Lisa’s ‘A-Ha’ moment was ignited in 2014 at the school gates, and followed regular chats to frustrated ex-professional females, turned full-time mums, who all had one thing in common — a desire to get back to work but without the know-how.
The more she spoke to mums, the more women she met who wanted to kick-start their careers. She could not believe the waste of untapped school-gate based talent and felt sure that if employers only realized this available, potential existed, things could well be a lot different and so ‘She’s Back’ was born.
Before launching, Unwin conducted research jointly with the University of Edinburgh Business school. The results proved that there is a significant pool of untapped talent in women who take a career break.
Not only that, they offer a combination of work experience and life experience that makes them a unique and valuable asset and an important source of future talent for any business.
“Many women who have been at home haven’t just been sitting doing nothing, they are often involved in voluntary activities, have been running homes, setting up businesses and been hectic bringing up children. They don’t lose their educational background, professional qualifications and years of work experience overnight, however their time at home tends to be deemed completely irrelevant to would-be employers.”
“Additionally, for many women, the time spent away from their desks, generally speaking, erodes their confidence and instead spawns an almost globally held self-perception that they are ‘past their sell-by date’ and ‘too old’ to get back into work”, says Unwin.
She’s Back’s response to this commonly held preconception is to provide advice, coaching, opportunities and support to women returning to work after an extended career break.
She’s Back also works with organizations to create the right sort of environment, processes and culture that will enable people to return successfully after a career break. In addition, they also advise on ways to retain talented people as the demands of their personal and working life change.
She adds, “There are unique challenges faced by female returners for example, most jobs are usually advertised as FULL TIME so any ex-professional women will feel they are not able to apply if they are looking for flexibility.
Secondly their CVs may not even get through the now generally used ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) to be short listed for an interview. This means they don’t even get over the first hurdle which has the knock on effect of denting their already fragile confidence.”
“Some women unintentionally self sabotage by allowing the nagging self doubt, which is understandably hard to avoid, due to their frazzled sense of self following a long career break.”
Unwin says it can take anything between 5 days to 6 months to successfully get your feet back under the table once you have returned but employers as well as returners need to understand that it takes time and effort.
She adds that the most successful returners, who may have had 5–10 years out of the job market, are those who have kept themselves up-to-date, maintained their interests, kept up with digital technology and maybe set up their own businesses during their time away from work.
So what should a determined would-be woman returner have prepared, as a given, before applying for jobs? Unwin recommends the following 3 steps as a starter.
1. Ensure your CV is on message. If not, go to a reputable CV company/professional like @CityCV who give excellent advice on how to write a compelling CV.
2. Ensure you are on LinkedIn
3. Use your own ex-work/university network, contact ex colleagues. Recent research by She’s Back has shown you are 6 times more likely to get a job via word-of-mouth than a recruitment consultant.
Unwin firmly believes that organizations need to review how they perceive flexible working if they are to maintain a competitive advantage.
“The working landscape has changed and continues to evolve, many organizations don’t understand flexibility unless it is a lower level of job. I believe employers need to reassess their job specs from a woman’s point of view.”
“The dialogue and culture also needs to change, with employers at the vanguard. We no longer have a rigid 9–5 jacket–on-chair culture. Employers must ask themselves what they can do to hang on to talent and to encourage returnships.“
“Many employers such as 02, Virgin Media and Balfour Beattie increasingly have adopted successful ‘Returnship’ programmes. However, there is still a long way to go.”
“One factor which I believe will start to change employer mindsets and encourage them to sit up and take notice is when they realize the positive impact returnships make on their bottom line.”
Lisa Unwin is founder of She’s Back