According to People Management Magazine, fewer that one in five women feel confident returning to work after maternity leave and a whopping 17% of women leave employment completely within five years of starting a family.
There are of course multitudes of reasons for women not returning to the workplace. Some are positive, such as an active decision to prioritise caring responsibilities. Whilst others are less so, as many women face discrimination as they try to negotiate flexible working, disproportionately high childcare costs and the myopic view some organisations have of working mothers.
What happens though if the plan to take a bit of a break turns into four, five, six years or more? So many women that come to me for coaching are in this position. So much so that I run free online workshops and a group coaching programme solely on this topic.
In this article, I have summarised five actions you can take that are designed to help build the foundations of a more confident you. The beauty is that you can apply these, no matter how long you have been away.
1) Recognise past achievements
Start by thinking back to your previous work life, and identify some experiences (eg meetings, projects, a period at work) where you were at your brilliant best. What was it about these experiences that made them so good? Try not to focus on the role itself, but rather the attributes that were present. Alongside this, write down three words that your best friend, manager and colleagues would each use to describe you. Better still – can you ask them?
2) Challenge yourself
If we continue to keep doing the same thing and stay in our comfort zone forever, how can we expect to change the outcome? By setting foot outside of this zone, we can start to shift our expectations. Pick one new thing you can do this month that will make you think “I did that!”. Try to find something related to your return to work – how about joining a network, signing up to a course or learning something new about the industry you would like to work in? This will start to build the evidence that you can do something new and different.
3) Get specific
This step is about digging a little deeper. What does the word confidence mean to you? What words do you associate with it? Do the words that come up point towards a perceived skill or knowledge gap? What specifically is this? What action can you take to address this and is it something you can act upon now? If not now, when? On the flip side, what skills or strengths do you feel most confident about? What can you do to use them more?
4) Track your progress
A great mechanism to build confidence is the recognition of how far you have come. Find a way to track your progress that works for you and is sustainable. Is it weekly goals in your diary or smartphone, or longer-term aspirations broken down into smaller steps and timeframes? Maybe it needs to go on a whiteboard, or somewhere else that you will see it. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is measurable and attribute ways to celebrate wins along the way.
5) How can you take it further?
If this is a topic you want to explore further, I’d highly recommend She’s Back by Lisa Unwin and Deb Khan or Brené Brown’s seminal 2010 TED talk: The Power of Vulnerability.
Alternatively, drop me a line and we can explore how I can help.
This article was written by Jane McKenna, career and life coach. Jane set up Brilliant Me Coaching to support women wanting to rebalance their work/ life. She can help you make changes to unlock your potential and build confidence if you are returning to work after a break.