Read more about our returner’s success story at the Government Equalities Office Returners Team
23 April 2018
“Having spoken for two years running at the f1’s back2businesship course for marketing returners, I have seen first-hand the incredible skills and experience of this cohort. I really hope that more employers wake up to the potential returners have to offer and that our work in this area encourages employers across the country and across sectors to offer new opportunities for returners.” Sharmini Selvarajah, Head of the Returners Team at the Government Equalities Office.
Vivien Kelly was a delegate at last year’s Back2businessship Programme.
Vivien met Sharmini Selvarajah, Head of the Returners Team at the Government Equalities Office on the programme, and post the programme, was successful in her application for the role of Communications and Engagement Lead with the Returners Team at the Government Equalities Office.
Here Vivien and Sharmini talk about the importance of Returners Programmes in helping ‘smooth the path’ for returners who have been out of the workplace for a number of years and wish to resume their career.
I had been researching returning to work for a while as both my children were in full-time school. It seemed to me that I had a stark choice between intense full-time work, of the kind I did before I had children, or continuing as a stay-at-home mum, neither of which appealed that much. I heard about a course designed specifically for people who had taken time out of a career in marketing or PR – back2businesship run by f1 recruitment, and set up by Amanda Fone and Liz Nottingham, supported by Golin and Creative Equals. Having spent over 14 years in advertising and public service broadcasting, I was thrilled when I got a place.
The course was a complete revelation. Prior to it I had felt almost alone in my desire to balance work with caring for my children. Suddenly I was in a room with 24 other women who wanted exactly the same thing. The most striking thing about this group, however, was not their needs, nor that they were all women, but that they were a group of people of incredible intelligence, talent and energy.
Sharmini Selvarajah, Head of the Returners Team at the Government Equalities Office, came and talked about her own career progression and their internal returner programme. It was an inspirational talk, because we learnt about the steady rise of returner programmes in general, in both the public and private sectors, and how these are designed to help returners balance their work and caring commitments; and because it was clear that Sharmini herself manages to balance an interesting and challenging career with caring for her family.
The climax of the course was a high-adrenaline speed-dating session, where we each spent five minutes pitching our skills and experience to a range of employers.
I applied for the returner programme at the Government Equalities Office and was lucky enough to be offered an interview. The night before it, I spent 7 hours in A&E with my daughter who had a bad case of ‘flu (she was fine). I almost took this as a sign that working and being the main carer is impossible and considered cancelling but decided I should go along for the practice. The interview was competency-based, and I was asked to talk about situations in which I had demonstrated various workplace skills (leadership, collaboration etc.). The nature of these questions plays to returners’ strengths, as at no point was I asked about my “gap” or to justify why I had been out of the workplace or precisely what my plan had been when I decided to stop working.
The GEO have been fantastic in structuring a working week for me which means that I can still see my children, and collect them from school twice a week. School holidays present problems for many working parents, and the GEO have agreed to give me unpaid leave for parts of them, so that I can manage the childcare costs.
I’m working on communicating government policy on returners and returner programmes. It’s a fantastic subject matter, as these programmes are so important for increasing diversity in the workplace, closing the gender pay gap and improving productivity and GDP. And, having taken part in the course, I now have first-hand knowledge of just how skilled and experienced returners can be.
I head up the Returner Team at the Government Equalities Office. I know from my experience and that of my friends that too often people struggle to get back into work at the right level after taking time out to care for their families. This is a huge loss to the economy, employers and for those individuals. In spring 2017, the Government allocated £5 million to increase opportunities and support for returners in the public and private sectors. As part of this work, the Government Equalities Office launched new programmes for returners in social work, health and the civil service. We’re also working to increase opportunities in the private sector and just this week published a toolkit, in partnership with Vodafone, to encourage more employers to create opportunities for returners. We’ve worked with Women Returners and Timewise to produce best practice guidance so the programme that employers run create good, flexible opportunities that work for employers and returners.
We have also launched a £1.5 million fund for charities and social enterprises to create new opportunities for returners across the private sector – not just at banks and professional services organisations. We’re hoping the fund will create new opportunities for different types of returners, including those who have been out of paid work for over ten years, older returners, and non-graduate returners. We’re particularly interested in projects that take place outside of London and projects that create opportunities in small and medium-sized businesses.
Returner programmes offer a supported bridge back to work and, in building in some flexibility to working practices, employers can benefit from a previously untapped highly-skilled and experienced talent pool. Hiring senior female returners can help employers address their gender pay gap, and also establish a female talent pipeline. Returner programmes also help increase diversity in an organisation.
Having spoken for two years running at the f1’s back2businesship course for marketing returners, I have seen first-hand the incredible skills and experience of this cohort. I really hope that more employers wake up to the potential returners have to offer and that our work in this area encourages employers across the country and across sectors to offer new opportunities for returners.