Trying to find the right role after a career break? It isn’t easy. To help newly returning experienced workers, Mastercard has initiated a scheme that focuses on fostering confidence and allowing maximum flexibility.
Taking a break from your career is a daunting proposition, and for many workers, it is a looming prospect that is almost unavoidable. Be it for health, family or personal reasons, taking prolonged leave brings with it many questions. How long should I take out? Will the world have passed me by when I come back? Am I still up for the job? Of course, this is more likely to affect women, who are far more likely to take a break following childbirth.
Last year, an American study found that employers are more likely to employ an under-qualified candidate than one that has taken an extended break. This was backed up by a report published by PwC, Women Returners and the 30% Club that found that two-thirds of female professionals end up taking a role beneath their potential upon their return to work. Further research conducted by the Executive Coaching Consultancy (ECC) found that 56% of returners were worried about building their confidence, with just over two-fifths apprehensive about getting started in a new role.
Finding the right support
So how do we get returners into a suitable role? At Mastercard UK, this involves a ‘Returnship’ programme, that was implemented earlier this year. Designed to help experienced people return to a similar level role as before their break, the 12-week scheme gives participants a chance to work on a strategic and commercially-focused project, with a view to applying for a permanent role.
“During the programme, it's really about assigning them opportunities which will give them really quick wins,” says Mary O’Gara, talent acquisition manager at Mastercard.
“This enables them to be successful given that it's just a 12-week program, so that they really feel that in that 12 weeks they're adding value.”
O’Gara, who runs the returnship scheme, says that feedback has been largely positive. Returners have felt supported through the process, with networking events and line managers playing a key role in making the prospective employees feel welcome.
“The line manager’s role starts before the returner joins, ensuring that on their first day and in their first few weeks they organise one-to-ones and meetings with their teams. They encourage returners to attend business presentations, product sessions, learning sessions and social gatherings. It really helps in them feeling integrated in the workforce,” says O’Gara.
This quick integration is designed to assuage returners’ fears and insecurities of returning to the workplace. O’Gara however feels that due to the seniority of the talent pool, many of the presumptions held by prospective employers didn’t apply to Mastercard’s returners.
“There is a fear factor that the world has moved on at a pace that they wouldn’t be able to catch up with. Has the technology changed, am I going to look stupid or ask silly questions?
“I was quite surprised at just how confident they were. They came in and they were up to speed really, really quickly.”
A confident return to the workplace can only be supported by finding a good work-life balance. Over half (54%) of the returners surveyed in the ECC report said that striking a comfortable balance between their home and professional responsibilities was their biggest challenge. Some 46% of respondents said that finding alternative care arrangements for their children was a concern.
These responsibilities often require a bespoke support network for individual employees, something that was already in place at Mastercard.
“Our flexibility policy applies to all of our employees. Last year we rolled out a programme that focuses on work-life balance - and it includes flexible work hours, working from home options, extended paternity leave,” explains O’Gara.
“Trust is one of our core values here. Our employees are trusted to manage their own flexible work hours – I think that instils a lot of appreciation.”
‘A two-way street’
This broad policy of inclusion and flexibility is one that applies to the returnship scheme. While much of the research focuses on how businesses can help mothers return to the workforce, O’Gara is quick to point out that Mastercard’s policy applies to both men and women, recognising that there are many different reasons that an extended career break may be taken.
“The scheme is gender neutral – it’s very much open to both males and females, which gives us an edge on the other programmes out there,” says O’Gara.
“It allows us to tap into a market of high quality talent, that we wouldn’t have typically gone after. We can build gender diverse teams and have stronger talent pipelines. It also brands us as a great place to come and work.”
Even though the policy is gender neutral, it’s benefit will primarily help women. With mandatory gender pay gap reporting looming, and the intense spotlight put on the issue in the aftermath of the BBC’s public report, the need for leveraging the talent pool of returning women, and making sure they are in work that fits their experience, is more pressing than ever. O’Gara feels that the proliferation of returnship programmes will make a tangible difference for returning mothers.
“These programmes will create change. Businesses can tap into markets of quality talent, and if we’re speaking specifically about women, these schemes can provide them encouragement and support.
“We need to start saying, ‘yes, we know you’ve taken this career break, but we appreciate what you and your experience can bring, and if you need support to reintegrate, we can do that’. It’s a two-way street, you bring amazing value to us, and we can help you.”
Keira Lloyd, B2B marketing director, Mastercard
I spent all of my career in advertising and marketing roles, working for some of the biggest agency networks in the world. In the latter part of my career, I was a freelance strategist, working to help advertising and marketing startups with their go to market strategies.
I took two years out to have my daughter. Even though my break was relatively short, when I applied for the relaunch your career programme, there was some apprehension I was changing careers. The posting fit perfectly with what I wanted and I had always had a great impression of Mastercard as a company, so I just went for it.
One of the organisation’s strengths is that it’s very human. The people they surround you with are the key to your success, because they’re the ones that give you the pathway through. My manager and buddy were brilliant. Debs, my manager, managed to combine a really caring attitude with flexibility and understanding of the organisation. I now count her as a friend.