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17 February 2014

Back to the Business Ship – we follow two people on the course

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Inspired by similar programmes in the banking sector Starcom MediaVest Group has launched Back to the Business Ship, an eight-day programme for female media and marcomms professionals who have been out of the industry for five years or more and who want to return. The purpose is to galvanise, and provide training and confidence to enable these women to get back into jobs in the media and marcomms market that reflect their skills and experience.

Why is the programme needed? Because of the lost talent, the lost revenue, the gender imbalance and the lack of diversity that result when women leave our industry and can’t break back into it. Evidence, regularly cited, suggests that companies that hang on to women, and especially those that pave the way to them becoming leaders, outperform those that don’t. There has been much high profile comment on this recently – from Davos debates to the FT’s interview with Dame Alison Carnwath (the FTSE 100’s only female chairman) and PR Week’s own Mentoring Programme. The impact of women returning and staying in business is firmly on the agenda.

Starcom MediaVest Group’s Regional HR Director, Liz Nottingham, says there are clear reasons for organising Back to the Business Ship. First, she says it’s the right thing to do. After a certain time out of work women find it very hard to get back. Secondly the advertising industry at large loses too many women when they get to a certain point in their careers. Thirdly, for Starcom this is a way of giving back. ‘We all know coming back to work is hard. Many women just give up. So we are taking a leaf out of the city book and developing the first fully rounded programme for women returning to our industry,’ Liz explains. Clients are very interested in what Starcom is doing with the women returners. Other agencies and media companies are watching closely. But it is action that Liz is interested in. ‘We’ve all been talking and talking about the issues of returning women,’ she says. ‘It’s now time to take action and do something positive about it.’

The challenge doesn’t stop after eight days of coaching. The real issue will be in finding these professional women a job at the end of it. Amanda Fone from f1, which is working with Starcom on the programme and organising work placements for participants at the end of it, says this will be a challenge. Many companies offer flexible working to women who already work for their business but it is very, very rare for f1 to get a call from a company specifically looking for a flexible or remote worker. She says, ‘Despite all the websites devoted to coaching women returners in interview skills and helping them find their inner confidence again, the truth is that there are just not enough flexible jobs that pay a decent salary in media and marcoms out there’. The good news is that the economy is improving and the apparent surge in demand for digital marketers is creating a skills shortage across the marketing sector.

To understand more about what’s needed to get over the barriers to returning to work a limited number of hours per week we talked to two of the Business Ship delegates about what they hope to achieve. Sara Stockdale was an account director in advertising until six years ago. Ellie Dymond was in broadcast marketing until four years ago. Both have young children. We’ll follow Ellie and Sara through the Back to the Business Ship programme, through their work placements until they both find roles.

What’s evident talking to both women is these are people that know their industry and their craft. They need to get up to date with how it’s all progressed in the last five years but they are skilled, experienced and passionate about getting back to the job. Many women who leave the industry choose to set up in their own business or change career completely. But plenty don’t. These are the people who thrive in a team, who know how to add value, who want to be working on big campaigns and who like the structure of the working week.

Both Ellie and Sara see Back to the Business Ship as a launch pad, a point in the right direction and a framework through which they can focus, re-align and create their own strategies for getting back into a career. As Sara puts it, ‘In the end I will channel everything I’ve learnt into a plan of action for how to approach finding a new job.’ There’s also the bigger picture. As Ellie says, ‘there are 25 years of work ahead of me. We have to keep an eye on the bigger picture. It’s not about what I want this year or next but what I want and can achieve in the long term.’ The Business Ship is also about confidence building, not in a general sense, but in the specific area of selling yourself in a job interview when for the last five years there has rarely been the requirement to sell your own skills to anyone.

Both Ellie and Sara know that the course is just the beginning and they share similarly modest expectations about what happens next. Sara says she wants to overcome the challenge of being able to work 30 hours a week because she doesn’t want a job that’s just ‘ok’ – ‘I want to love it and to make a significant contribution.’ Both know that when it comes to an interview it will be a challenge convincing an employer that they can do the job in three days as well as someone else in five, even though, as Sara put it, ‘I’ve got three kids. I know what hard work is and I’m not coming to work for a chat.’

f1’s Amanda Fone says that the success of the Back to the Business Ship programme will be in how many of its women participants get back to work. ‘There are hundreds of training courses available,’ she says. ‘It’s a big market and there’s clearly money in it and women who are prepared to pay. But what matters is whether returning women actually get a job. Businesses now need to be employing these women. And that’s where the f1 commitment to securing work placements comes in – it is positive, affirmative action. We will fix a fortnight’s placement for women on the Back to the Business Ship programme to help bridge the gap between their last job and the next one and we expect this work experience to be part of their finding a full time, flexible working role.’

If you’re interested in hosting a work placement please get in touch.

Starcom has not charged delegates for the Back Businesship programme and f1 does not charge clients for taking someone on a work placement.

You can also read about Back to the Business Ship in the Guardian