I feel I need to start by giving some context. Firstly, my advice below applies to any industry and any gender. Secondly regardless of role, we are all leaders. Servant leaders, line leaders and most importantly, leaders of our own lives. I am however going to frame this in regards to women in technology. We are making great strives to focus much needed attention in encouraging young girls into STEM subjects, future talent is critical. But what about today's workforce? The pipeline into management roles and those already in leadership positions? There is a known decline in the number of women in IT post a certain age range. We can only surmise as to the various reasons but what practical guidance can we give to buck this trend?
A break from the traditional work CV can be born from many situations. A sabbatical, maternity leave and in my case breast cancer. Yes, it's been brutal and I wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy but with any life event these are learning opportunities, whether you want it or not! During this turbulent road -apart from the physical, psychological and emotional hurdles -I wrote and published a book of cancer poems encouraging others to write when it is difficult to talk (@bewithmeitsc). I had and still have the privilege of being a Trustee for seAp advocacy advising on IT, Change & Transformation. seAp's advocates are real hero's as they provideessential support and a voice for those in need.
Whatever your life event, our behaviours, values and responses are tested more intensely than in many work situations. So how do we portray this when we emerge and look to return to the workplace?
Advice for candidates -
You will have grown in yourself during this work break and now offer fresh perspective and thinking. Perhaps you discovered some hidden talents you never knew existed or found yourself to be in such demand that multi-tasking is now plain sailing. Whether it’s time management, negotiation, problem solving, delegating, empowering, innovating, financial management, dealing with risk, resilience, patience, creativity, determination… I can go on… what behaviours, skills and perhaps value challenges have you embraced? When providing interview responses pick a previous relevant work example. Once shared, expand on how you would tackle this situation in future incorporating your recent personal development. Would you change your approach at all or are you more confident in your actions? Are you more of a risk taker or do you now apply different logic to your decision making? Have you learnt about a new culture or language since then? Have you recently encouraged a group of extremely reluctant people to come together for a common purpose? Did you deal with a different kind of politics? Perhaps you negotiated a path through a series of demands upon your time? Remember we get tested in our daily lives, your responsibility is to explain how this naturally transfers to the workplace.
Advice for recruiting manager –
I am skipping past the obvious in that I have assumed competence in the job and previous experience that demonstrate core skill set. Depending on the duration away from the workplace this could simply require a quick dusting off the cobwebs, perhaps with an initial work buddy (to assist with the odd question) or a bit more with training. Once competency is established the essential question is; do you think she is capable of doing the job? Will she fit with your culture and team? What behaviours has she demonstrated that will drive value for the organisation? If you like her style and feel she is capable but apprehensive about the ‘time off’ in comparison to other candidates, then I’d encourage you to play a small part in ending the disappearance of women in technology post a certain age. You have this responsibility. Rather than wonder why, act on it. If she can prove her capabilities and confidence in handling situations,then she will be a strong addition to your team.
A last word of encouragement to any women looking to return to work or indeed move on –
Remember, if you can do everything listed in the job spec you'd be bored within a few months. It just means you can do it all and will have no opportunity to grow. To be frank, anyone ticking every box in a job specis over qualified as this is a dream list.
- Have faith in yourself
- Get your life experience lessonsto enhance your old work examples polished. Then,
- Go and demonstrate how you can make a difference.
You are an invaluable member of the team.