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What Does it Take for Women to Get Back to Their Careers?

women to get back to work

Few women go into their careers planning to get pushed out of it.

And yet, despite decades of change that has resulted in more women graduating with advanced degrees and women entering into careers in numbers equal to that of men, the factors that push us out of the workforce in high numbers haven’t changed much.

Motherhood and childcare, elder caregiving, chronic illness, lack of advancement, ageism, job loss—the list goes on and on, and if you ask any career woman with an overly fulfilled life, it’s one she carries with her always.

The interesting thing to me, however, is how little this list has changed since I first started researching working parent issues nearly a decade ago, at the Working Mother Research Institute, and even longer, since the founding of the Working Mother 100 Best Companies, more than 30 years ago.

While it is usually a complex array of pushes and pulls that will lead a woman to realize that she can no longer stay in her career, it can also be as simple as a layoff. But while this moment differs for every woman, what I want to know (both personally and professionally) is, once the factors realign, what does it take to come back to your career?

That’s the question we aim to answer this week at Spring.St. In a specially curated collection of essays and articles, appropriately called “Back to Work,” we examine honestly how talented women are taking back their careers, from formal returnships and on-ramp programs to the individual stories of success and lessons learned.

One of my favorites this week is “13 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Unexpectedly Lost My Job,” by our own Special Projects Editor Sarah-Jane Collins, who relates the moment she was unceremoniously booted from her job one week before Christmas:

“I had never been unemployed in my life. I got my first job, a paper route, when I was 12, and started an after-school job at McDonald’s on my 15th birthday.  So to be unemployed suddenly was a slap in the face. 

I didn’t take it well.”

And yet, she learned a lot from her experience, from basics like “have savings” and “have a plan” to “get professional help it you need it” for your resume and job hunting skills.

My favorite lesson of hers, however, is the reminder to “build your resilience”:

“Going to interview after interview is exhausting and can be a soul-destroying process if you are constantly being turned down. Always be prepared for no.”

Yes, job hunting is always tiring, but never more so than when you’ve been out of the workforce for a while. Resumes, returnships and resilience are just three of the many tools women need to deploy when it’s time to get back to work.

To that end, I say to every woman currently job hunting: Stay strong and know that the right job is out there for you, and don’t hesitate for a moment to put your network to work for you.

And for those of us in a position to hire, I implore you to keep you eyes (and your mind) open to the talent of re-entry women just waiting to be tapped.

You won’t be sorry.

About the Author

Jennifer Owens is editor of Spring.St, the place for smart women. Formerly, she was editorial director of Working Mother magazine & founding director of the Working Mother Research Institute, home to the Working Mother 100 Best Companies and Best Companies for Multicultural Women, among other initiatives.