Authored by Charlotte Dumont-Castelnovo
There are many industry commentators who advocate strong and in many cases conflicting views about how to improve the opportunities for women in business. This is a particularly prevalent debate in the life sciences sector. A lot of discussion centres on senior executives and board appointments, however, it is the pipeline of excellent women rising through industry which will ultimately populate these roles. Yet, owing often to domestic and social dynamics and challenging business prejudice, women find their careers thrown off course by the time they take out for families. In recognition of this and International Women’s Day, Liftstream asked Charlotte, a woman looking to come back into the working system to document her perspective about this process. Her personal account follows:
Some years ago I have decided to put on hold my rising career in the pharmaceutical industry to spend time with my growing family. Five years and 3 children later, I have now decided that it would be a good time to resume my professional life. How do I know it is the good time? It is the same as when I decided to stop working: is there ever a “perfect time”? It is just a moment in life where you feel you are ready to be open to a new path. Now here I am, about to embark on a new adventure: being a working mum of 3 children! I feel very excited about starting this new chapter of my career and life. I loved my previous job: all the challenges it offered, all the rewards and satisfactions. It was truly motivating to work in an ever challenging and evolving environment as the pharmaceutical industry was and still is. I want to be part of this world again.
Now that I feel ready for the journey, I’m making sure my “bags” are packed.
I’m convinced that my academic knowledge, technical skills and corporate experience have not vanished. Not at all. They were safely stored in my brain during this time. And now as I prepare myself to go back to work, I can hear all the synapses connecting together, knowing that the right time has come to embark on this journey.
Not only do I wish to capitalise on the skills which were carefully crafted during my working life, but I also want to use all the new ones that I have developed during my time at home with my family. All the energy, organisation, creativity and communication that are needed and utilised daily “at home” will be of great use in this new path.
The idea of embarking on an adventure of my own is daunting. I have become comfortable in my current life but I definitely feel I’m prepared to move on now.
The break I took may not necessarily be valued as professional experience. I will have to reassure employers that this time off work is not a gap in my competencies, but was a valuable time to develop different skills. To prove this, I will need to re-build the confidence that I once had. I believe that on every journey you do not always begin with all the necessary equipment, but as long as you know you have to bring them on board, you should be ready to go and begin your adventure!
The path ahead of me is full of opportunities. In a world where the importance of diversity and its advantages inside companies and in society is valued, I believe the different perspectives and experiences gained through having lived and worked in three different countries will be beneficial and will contribute towards the success of an organisation. Having a fresh outlook on a business can strengthen a team. It’s now widely recognised that mixed gender teams foster creativity and innovation in implementing projects and developing new solutions. Diversity increases employee’s motivation to contribute their various skills and talents and feel appreciated as a result.
As a working mum I feel that the sense of responsibility towards an employer is even higher as you know that they will expect the same as a child free person. The focus that could be put in work is higher. I think that the available resources within oneself will be used in a more efficient way to be able to combine two different aspects of life: work and family.
Diversity in the working place raises the question of the work environment. Does the work environment allow diversity? How could I fit in an environment with my own constraints? How can I keep a good work-life balance? These are the questions that pop in my head en route to my new working life. Flexibility, as long as the needs of the business are met, seems to be the best path. I feel that a different and more creative way of thinking coming from the top down in an organisation can lead to more success. Focusing on valuing importance of job-sharing, flex-time and remote working truly lends to a greater sense of professional satisfaction and balance in the lives of parents in today’s workforce.
This account illustrates the belief women have that they have as much to offer business today as they did before they left work, if not more. It proves that they look at the values which companies espouse and the way in which they can accommodate aspirational women who identify with corporate diversity. However, it also highlights that business needs to be supportive of women wanting to reintegrate into the working environment and how they must help to restore their professional confidence to unlock their great potential.
Liftstream hopes this real-life context might help you and your colleagues understand the value of this high-potential workforce as well as the work which still needs to be done to evolve the attitudes and approaches businesses take towards women. We surely want a stronger, more diverse workforce and so women executives need to be a feature of this and this critical juncture in their careers is where business can help keep them on the track towards the top.