What does change look like for women returners?

Cadence Innova helps public sector organisations grow their social impact, through digital and business transformation. As part of an effort to build inclusive cultures in companies, Cadence also uses flexibility and diversity as cornerstones of its own business practice.

In this interview, I am exploring why it is important to explore the lives of experienced professionals who have taken a long career break and are ready to get back to work.

I talked to Julia Brennan, an accomplished International Sales Manager with over 10 years’ experience in bilingual negotiation, sales, product localisation and staff management, working at a senior level in both the UK and Russia.

In the past, Julia also worked for the British Embassy Moscow, CIS Council for Standardisation and Certification, and Shell Moscow.

She shares her background, what the change looks like in a life of a returner, and her top tips for a seamless transition from stay-at-home to professional work.

Servane Mouazan: Tell us more about your exciting background?

Julia Brennan: I did a degree in Russian, and  European Studies and wrote about environmental policy.

My granddad was professor of Russian at Edinburgh university, wrote most of the books students used. He was a translator and I got inspired by his work. He would show us slides of Moscow when we were kids and that stayed with me.

Then I got offered a place on a PhD on sustainable development policy in Russia but turned that down in favour of job offer at English First, a language company who had just set up in Russia. The position was to run business development activities for a new expansion of the firm across Russia. I was travelling all around this vast country on my own in the mid 1990s. We were all learning. You have to do business in a different complex cultures. You couldn’t bombard your clients with your own ways of doing this. This is what I took away from this experience: understanding others and working independently without safety net, in sometimes hectic places.

SM: What happened then?

JB: I returned to the UK and started a family. I then did a Masters in Russian-English interpreting at the Institute of Linguistics ( City University). Juggling young children and further education is not as simple as it sounds.

After my second child I took time out of my career to be a “stay at home mum” although I continued working part-time by running my own business as a personal trainer. Thanks to this flexible occupation, I kept some kind of economic independence, met all sorts of people and stayed open to opportunities. Back then however, people still didn’t consider that a “proper” job. Things have changed now.

SM: What were the key obstacles you faced when you decided to go back to the workplace?

JB: Once my children got into secondary school I made the decision to go back to my original career, focused on business. Initially a had a few interviews but it seemed that employers either didn’t contact me or were very focused on the gap in my career rather than what I had done previously.

I got offered a full time job that implied travelling long distance, or a part-time job well below my skillset and underpaid. Things didn’t look bright.

Meeting with Jane at Cadence was a life-changing opportunity

JB: I was lucky enough to be introduced to Jane [Barrett, co-founder at Cadence Innova] by a friend. I was fascinated by the work that she was doing and we began talking about my previous career. She asked me to send her my CV, come in for an interview and the rest is history.

What Jane and the partners at Cadence did was to look in a different way at a woman who had previously excelled in studies and career but, like many women, had taken a life choice to give up work to be at home and bring up three children. They were willing to give me an opportunity to get back into the workplace even though they knew I would need to hit the ground running having had a big break from the corporate world. In short, Cadence are willing to give intelligent women a second chance at their career. Unlike some, they actually value the experiences you gained in your previous life and also the one you gained managing a family and bringing up children. They understand the transferrable skills involved.

“My experience is that many other employers just don’t bother to look any further than the gap in your CV”.

SM: As Cadence is providing strategies to reduce the Gender Pay Gap in companies, tell us how everything is related.

JB: Indeed, this is related to a wider issue, the gender pay gap isn’t just about the gap in pay between men and women but also that massive gap in opportunities once a women gives up a career long term to bring up children.

Before Cadence I had begun to feel undervalued by society and also by my boys, my husband. I had started to seriously regret making that decision to stay at home and be a full-time mum. Since working for Cadence I have gained so much confidence. This gain of confidence manifests itself through simple signs: I walk taller, I am much happier. It means that when I face new challenges, I no longer feel afraid to embrace them, am not afraid to learn and work twice as hard to get up to speed.

I love my work and I can see a pathway for my life and my opportunities ahead. It’s fantastic!

SM: What are you doing now at Cadence?

JB: I have a portfolio of work: I am currently based in a London local authority, supporting a cabinet report to redesignate the borough with selective licensing for private housing. On my other project, I am helping a local borough mitigate the issues faced around infrastructures (housing, language, policing, unaccompanied minor protection and fostering, rough sleeping) in the context of sudden mass migration. I have set up a Student Environmental Health Work Placement Scheme… I also write public funding proposals. Among other things!

SM: What does the change look like in a life of a returner?

JB: It was a huge learning curve when I started and a complete change for me and my family.

IT for example had moved on massively since I was last working and I almost had to relearn it all and fast! I absolutely loved the challenge though and after a few weeks I found it much easier. Cadence is a company that respects the family and family life and work/ life balance is fairly flexible. I am able to work from home once a week or at our central London office. The clients I am working for at the moment don’t work really late into the evening which means that I can get home in time to enjoy my family, even after doing a full day at the office.

I don’t feel going back to work has impacted my household  in a negative way at all. As a family it’s been a positive exercise for everyone to take joint responsibility. It’s important for children, boys in particular to understand that women should be valued for their work outside as well as in the home and that everyone in the family is expected to making an effort. My boys can see that now.

SM: What top tips would you advise returners to follow?

1.    Don’t be afraid of new technology and IT: Before I went back to work it seemed like a massive barrier to starting a new job but in fact it didn’t take that long to get back up to speed. I would advise to do short online courses, for instance.

2.    Believe in yourself: There will be some weeks when you learn so fast and you feel like you are doing really well but equally sometimes you feel like it is such a challenge and you worry that you’re not good enough. Just keep on going and take each task one step at a time. It will all fall into place. You can do it.

3.    The web is your best friend!

So do your research… Research as much as you can for each project and each aspect of your new role. It’s amazing what you can learn online. Ensure you use your social networks and nurture your connections.

4.    Buy a crock pot so you can cook a meal for the family whilst out at work! *Or they can cook it for you…

5.    Enjoy your new life!

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Cadence Innova inspires and empowers customers in the UK with services that make peoples’ lives easier, communities more connected and enterprises more sustainable.

They address large societal challenges in uncertain and changing futures by helping organisations accelerate their positive social impact.

They combine visionary thinking to a flexible and bespoke technical support to enable quality digital and business transformation.

www.cadenceinnova.com

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