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Advice for mums returning to work

Re-entering the workforce after having a child is always scary. And, unfortunately, the various myths surrounding how, when and where mums can work only perpetuates this, writes FlexCareers CEO Natalie Goldman. 

"Don't talk about your kids too much at work or people will think you're distracted."

"Make sure you stay later than the boss, so he knows you're serious."

"You'll never find a role that's less than four days a week."

These are just some pieces of 'advice' I hear given to return-to-work mums. Re-entering the workforce after having a child is always scary. And, unfortunately, the various myths surrounding how, when and where mums can work only perpetuates this. 

More often than not, return-to-work mums have an overwhelming sense of needing to prove themselves. It's important to remember that coming back is not starting again. There's also this myth that you can't set boundaries. If you're asked to work overtime and you don't want to (and it's not in your contract) make sure you say 'no'. Conversely, if someone needs to work a project that requires weekends and you're overlooked because you're a parent, but you want to do it, make some noise.

However, before you even get to start working again, there are some big considerations in choosing which role to take. There are unofficial statistics that show the first 12 months of returning to work are critical, and if a woman doesn't get the support she needs, she leaves. As a result, it's hugely important to choose a place of employment that will support you - not just pay lip service, but support you. 

So, how do you know?

Larger organisations could have a section on their website or be able to talk to specific examples of how they support return-to-work mums. For example, we help EY with a Reconnect program to help women who have been out of the workforce for several years re-enter the workforce. The business has hired 77 per cent of women who have gone through the programs. 

If you can't find any readily available information, it's worth having an honest conversation during the engagement process. Many women don't want to ask these questions as they think it will look bad in front of a prospective employer. But the reality is that if they do mind, then they're probably not someone you'd want to work for anyway. 

It's also important to be clear on how you'd like to approach your role when you return. Too often, women who drop a full-time load are less likely to work on projects or tasks that will develop their career. While there are some jobs that aren't feasible to do full-time, most are.

Most part-time roles you'll find on traditional job-seeking sites will be administrative, which is fine if that's your background and what you want to do, but not fine if you've set your sights on a leadership position or even the CEO seat. Any employer must consider your request for flexible work, so make sure you put a good case forward as to how you can add even more value while working flexibly. 

Now, flexibility could mean several things. It could be working three days a week, job sharing, unlimited vacation, a compressed working week (where you might do 37 hours across three days), remote working, or casual shifts. Think about what will work for you, your company, and your direct team. 

The main thing to remember is that there are great options out there and you CAN do it.

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