Welcoming Women Back

There’s been a lot of talk about Return to Work programs or ‘Returnships’, which was the clever description invented by Goldman Sachs in 2008. These programs tend to target women who’ve taken time out to take care of their children or elderly relatives. March’s budget, £5m, was pledged to support these schemes, which are also open to men as it wouldn’t do to appear sexist. Employers are starting to embrace the concept which effectively recognises that women don’t forget their years of studying, corporate experience and professional qualifications just because they’ve given birth to a child or two.

When I was out of the workforce, taking care of three children under four, I lived in a small town in Connecticut about 50 miles outside of New York City. Play groups were competitive events with the main judging criteria being: Snack Provision (bought/home-made), Toy Provision (plastic/wooden) and House Cleanliness (speaks for itself). After hosting one of these events I’d have to lie down on the sofa for a few days to recover. There was one memorable Christmas playdate where one of the moms had no less than twenty-six Christmas trees in her house. Twenty-six. Christmas. Trees. All at least five foot tall, all fully decorated. It was like living in some kind of Stepford parallel universe. When the children started school, the Parent Teacher Organisations terrified me. They were run by formidable women who’d left careers in the city to become ‘Homemakers’. It was a hugely competitive environment considering it was in the voluntary sector.

I accidentally became a ‘Returnship’ pioneer (given that it was 2007 and they hadn’t been invented yet), when I started to work for Deloitte. Somehow, I managed to get by without the confidence boosting sessions which are an integral part of return schemes. For me, I loved having conversations which didn’t begin and end with how much sleep you’d had. I could eat lunch in peace, and go to the bathroom by myself. The value of these two things should not be under-estimated. In…

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