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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

6 barriers for women returning to work: the story behind the Entain X McLaren F1 Team Returnship.

The launch of our new Returnship programme in partnership with the McLaren F1 Team has sharpened our focus on supporting women returning to work after a career break, particularly within STEM.

The Entain X McLaren F1 Team Returnship programme helps women get back in the driving seat of their careers after time out of the game. With McLaren, we’ve created a Returnship that nurtures, guides and mentors women in data, technology & engineering.

You can find out more about the programme and apply for a place here.

While Entain and McLaren have a common passion and commitment to improve representation of women in STEM, it’s important to recognise what barriers are created when women take time off work that makes returning to a career in this industry even harder.

Understanding these barriers before we embarked on the journey of developing our Returnship programme was at the top of our agenda. So, we spoke to Christine Armstrong – a researcher, speaker and writer on the ever-evolving world of work – to get her thoughts on the obstacles women face when trying to reignite their careers. 

She started by asking some recruiters what the barriers are for potential returners and addressing what they shared.

Barrier 1: I've been out of work for too long and no one would see me as employable.

Lots of people feel this way but the world has changed.

First, the UK is experiencing a massive skills shortage and employers and recruiters have become much more open-minded about who they hire.  Recently on LinkedIn I saw Adam Nicholl, the marketing head of Randstad (one of the world’s biggest recruiters) saying they view gaps on CVs with an open mind and human-first approach. You can benefit from that change.

Second, it is easy to underestimate what you have learnt during a career gap. Non-linear and ‘squiggly’ (have a look at the great work of Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper at Amazing If on this) careers are completely normal and welcome in most industries. Whether you’ve taken a break to care for someone, decided to re-skill or stepped away for your own health; changing roles and gaining life knowledge is hugely valuable. Just because you didn’t go down the straight path to this point in your career, doesn’t mean you’re not as capable as the person that did. It could well be that those coming 'from outside', bring fresh perspectives and an infectious enthusiasm that those who haven’t moved may not always feel.

Barrier 2: I feel like I’ve failed at my profession compared to my peers, who are senior now.

One of the great joys of getting older is realising that some of your dodgy old mates now have great jobs and insight into lots of areas.  That is a massive advantage to you. As one of my very successful friends (and a returnship expert), Lisa Unwin says ‘It’s brilliant to have a senior network!’ They can advise you, so go and talk to them and ask for their thoughts on your plans and who else they can introduce you to.

But – and this is very important - don’t assume they look down on you because you’ve not followed their path. Many may secretly be thinking that you have made better decisions than them, invested more in your relationships and skills development and lived a more balanced life. There are many ways to be successful, work is just one of them.

It’s time to re-evaluate your definition of failure and be kind to yourself.

Barrier 3: I don’t have an up-to-date CV, or struggle to write one.

There are loads of tools and libraries online now - is amazing. Also lean on those around you for help – younger and older, get everyone to have a look. Any good recruiter will want to get to know you, past what you’ve put on your CV. So, keep it clean and concise, but include your career break as if it were a job and make it specific to the industry / role you’re applying for if you can.  A friend of mine ran the PTA for years and was able to report tripling the income to deliver an edible garden and reading yurt, managing a volunteer army of 40 parents and putting their accounts onto a proper online system.

Barrier 4: LinkedIn scares me to death because I don’t know how it works and I can't have a profile because I'm not working.

LinkedIn really is easy to use and lots of people who are not working have profiles. It is also the kindest of all the social networking sites, because everyone is named and attached to their current / past and potential employers, so they tend to say nice things or nothing at all. 

Start by setting up a simple profile (if you don’t have one already) and connect with everyone you used to work with and relevant people you know socially.  If you’re not sure what your own profile should say, have a look at some people in similar fields and those who have taken breaks and work from there.  Make sure you have a good clear photo of your face (not too distant as the headshots come up small).  If it feels comfortable, you could ask a few ex colleagues or bosses to write a short recommendation for you. This will help your profile. Be clear that you are looking for work and what you would like to do.

Follow relevant hashtags and individual thought leaders in your sector.  Start out by commenting on other people’s posts and being warm and useful in a professional way.  Build points and add links without selling anything direct. Reconnect with old friends and resist the temptation to remind your school friend who is now a partner at a law firm about the day they tried to burn down the science block!  I recommend following Nigel Cliffe for some fantastic LinkedIn tips, techniques and advice.

Try to enjoy it, pop on most weekdays for 10 minutes or so - and follow my Friday vlogs if you fancy three minutes of weekly cheerful comment on the future of work.

Barrier 5: I look old and will be not fit in with my team. I also haven’t a clue what to wear.

Think about your life outside of work: do you downgrade the advice of older people with more life experience than you? Of course not.  Teams need balance and perspective and yours is just as valuable as everyone else’s. Possibly more so.

On your outfit – take cues from whatever everyone else is wearing when you visit (parking outside and watching is perfectly fine here!), but most importantly, just be yourself. Work within any rules, but generally notice that business clothes have relaxed over the few years so fewer people wear suits and a lot wear smart trainers to work.  Follow that trend if it feels comfortable for you: Trinny (and her twinning friend Chloe) are a good inspiration if you are on Instagram.

My favourite places to buy work clothes are what my mother in law calls Dress Agencies. Posh second-hand basically, where you can get great quality pieces for a fraction of their original price. This is the one in Winchester that I visit every few weeks for a poke around. You may also be able to sell any pieces you have that might not suit you/fit well anymore. Also check out the charity chops is the poshest area near you: a friend got a coat yesterday from a designer rail (OK this was in Chiswick) that cost £100 but in good condition and originally cost £2600!

Teams need balance and perspective and yours is just as valuable as everyone else’s. Maybe more so.

Barrier 6: My skills are out of date.

You are great at learning how things work – that is what drew you towards a STEM career in the first place. Learning a new system or process is LITERALLY what you do and there will be a team of people in whose interests it will be to get you up to speed quickly. Never forget how much most people like being asked for advice.

You’re no less capable of picking things up then you once were. Plus, the technology and skills we use at home are very similar to the technology and skills in the workplace – it’s all transferable and you’re probably not as out of the loop as you may think. If all else fails, everything has a ‘how to’ YouTube video these days and your neighbour’s eight-year-old can definitely find it for you. I’m only half joking…


About Christine

Christine is a researcher, author and speaker on the Future of Work. By exploring current trends and data, workplace communications and culture, work-life balance and hybrid and remote working, Christine examines the new challenges to the old ways of doing business. She also explores the impact of working practices on different groups, including women, parents and carers.

She is the author of ‘The Mother of All Jobs: how to have children and a career and stay sane(ish)’, published by Bloomsbury. The book is based on six years of interviews with working parents, employers, leadership experts and carers. The book was a finalist in the Business Book UK awards 2019. 

She continues her research into the experiences of women and work and has just completed a tour of the country interviewing women in ‘mid-life’ about how they define success and what they want for the future. Christine and her team are currently researching employee’s response to the cost of living crisis and the predicted downturn.

She has a Friday vlog about where work and life collide and lives in Winchester with her husband, three daughters and not-very-clever dog Monty.