Return to Work

Connecting our Community: Meet Liz

Liz had a successful fifteen-year marketing career at two of Australia’s leading companies. On the day she walked out the door to start a family, she planned a one year break with an expectation of walking back into work and picking up where she left off. Ten years later and four amazing children, she rejoined the workforce.

What industry do/did you work in?

I am now working in the not-for-profit sector in clinical trial research as a marketing and communications manager. The money isn’t great but the work I do makes a difference and the flexibility provided by the sector is remarkable.

How long was your career gap?


I had a significant gap. I left work in 2003 and didn’t return until 2012.

What was the hardest thing about returning to the workforce?

Professionally, the change in the marketing landscape in that one ten year period was probably the most profound challenge. A digital revolution had taken place while I was learning Wiggles songs. When I left work we were using floppy disks, the internet was in its infancy, marketing as a career was looking unsure and a digital strategy involved having a static website. I missed the opportunity to gain digital knowledge as it was evolving. It was like arriving in a foreign land in those first few weeks back at work. The hardest part of returning to the workforce was working out who I was and what I had to offer. So much of my identity had been so intrinsically linked to my career; where I had worked and the opportunities I had, the mentoring, the travel and, of course, the great salary.

The personal challenge of returning to the workforce: I really miss my kids. I miss their concerts and carnivals, I miss not being able to commit time to their homework as much as I would like to, I miss not reading a bedtime story because afterschool activities, followed by homework, dinner bath and bed push the time beyond their bedtime. I miss not being there for them when they are sick. Who knows in years to come whether they will have noticed or whether they will instead be proud they had a mum who worked. I’m hoping it is the latter and as a mother of a tribe of boys and one headstrong young girl, I hope they are compassionate employers and employees as a result.

How did you manage your ‘career gap” on your CV

When I was decided, it was time to return to work I consulted an HR professional from Canberra. She runs a website for mothers returning to the workforce. Building a CV after a ten-year break wasn’t easy but her advice was to say I had been raising a family and to highlight all the volunteer work I had done at pre-schools and school that aligned with the career I had before children. Her advice, was to demonstrate how you were staying current while staying at home. I would rather be honest with an employer because I can’t hide four kids!

What is your current working arrangement?

I am incredibly fortunate to have an extraordinary CEO. I work four days with Wednesday’s as my day away from the office. I work varied hours depending on my workload with an expectation that I pick up any hours I’m not in the office at home – which I do. My CEO also arranged a parking space so I can shoot straight from the office to ferry the kids to afterschool sport and activities. This is an invaluable gesture by her and the organisation.

Does this work for you and your family?

I couldn’t work if it weren’t for my parents who are on duty most days of the week. If you were to ask them does this work, they would say no. They carry much of the load in the afternoons! We all try to make it work as best we can. The challenge, however, is that no one is receiving 100% of my efforts and that is a cause of frustration. I want to be giving the very best I can but sometimes, actually most of the time, that simply isn’t possible.

What surprised you when you returned to work?
Three things surprised me the most:

Firstly, how much value I had placed on my identity being who I worked for and what I did.

Secondly, how much I had missed genuine adult conversation and interaction. The stimulation of an office environment was liberating.

Thirdly, how much calmer I was in the office. The small things, the politics, the expectations of working a very long day to impress others was no longer there. It was about quality rather than quantity, substance over politics.

What are your biggest challenge juggling work and family?

Time and energy are the biggest challenges on the family. My fridge looks like a WWII battle plan with activities, particularly sport and parties, mapped with precision with allocated drivers, etc.

There has had to be a family compromise on the washing and ironing being done on time. Sometimes you could climb the piles but those piles exist because I’ve had extra time with the kids. It’s a compromise I’m prepared to accept.

There are some days I wish I could do an 18 hour day in the office. When I’m on a roll or on a deadline I wish I could do as my husband always has and just call and say “sorry, something came up I’m going to be really late tonight”. If I were to do that, someone would ring DOCS!

What’s your best piece of advice for mums returning to work?

Be honest. Be honest to yourself that who you were and what you could accomplish before children will be different. Be honest with a prospective employer, give them the opportunity to see you for who you are (baggage and all) and be proud that you can work and be a mum. Some days you will want to sit in a corner and cry, or drink too much wine, or stare blankly wondering what on earth you are doing. That’s ok. Some days will be great and some days won’t but I bet the great ones outnumber the bad.

I went to a meeting a few weeks ago where a senior marketer said her friends in their early 30’s (I’m long past that) don’t wear their wedding bands to an interview so no one thinks they are going to take time off to have a child. I was floored; I couldn’t see that working well for anyone.

What would you say to mums on a career gap to make the transition back to work easier?

  • Don’t undersell the skills you had before you left work and the new set of skills you gained at home. Turn them into language your future employer will understand – communications, budgeting, planning, execution, project management, etc.
  • Talk to your friends, old colleagues and read blog sites about returning to work. Take the good with the bad and filter what you need to hear.
  • Be realistic. When I went for my interview I told them I had four kids; that was obviously a challenge I brought to the table but I had support in place to minimise any impact on my workplace. Demonstrate that you have put yourself in your employer’s shoes and thought about what might be on their mind.
  • Look at Community College courses. Short courses can help you upskill quickly without great expense.
  • Volunteer while you are at home with the kids. Take on a committee role and use the skills you would otherwise have used at work.
  • Be prepared to be disappointed. Not everyone who says they are family friendly really means it. They might be missing out on a great employee, their loss, not yours.
  • Be prepared for really stupid comments. Take them in your stride and remember some people are just ignorant.
  • Read ferociously. Subscribe to newsletters, blogs, and newspapers. Have a solid understanding of the industry you are returning to and pay particular attention to any changes that have occurred since you left. Keep in mind the major social, political and technological changes that have taken place in your industry.
  • If you are worried about how you might transition take a strategic approach and look for project work or a contract that will give you space to opt out if you realise you aren’t ready.

I was sitting next to my twentysomething colleague last week while we were writing a job spec for a new coordinator role. He said, quite a matter of factly, “Wow, two years in a marketing job in the one place, that’s unusual”. He was right, times have certainly changed. People change roles far more regularly and loyalty is doing your job well not necessarily staying for a lifetime.

If you can change one thing about being a working mother, what would it be?

Narrowing it to one thing is very difficult.

I wish I could turn off the voice in my head that says you should be doing x,y or z right now when right now I just can’t be doing that.

I wish I didn’t feel guilty about rushing the kids out the door so I can get to work on time. I wish I didn’t feel guilty at work for not always being on time.

I wish I could work and still make all the school activities without comprising anyone’s time.

I wish I could be like my husband some days and just work as long as I needed without the pressure of having a second job at home.

What is your top tip for working mums to juggle the struggle?

If you can, work somewhere where you are valued and you add value. If you know you are making a difference you can reconcile everything else and your kids will take pride in sharing with their friends what it their mum does.

Make sure your partner understands that once you return to work you can’t be expected to be a full-time, stay-at-home mum and an employee and commit the same time to both jobs. You will effectively be doing two jobs, regardless of how good your employer is. Expectation management for yourself, your marriage/partnership and your family is going to take time and some very confident communication.

As a working mum you know there is never just one tip! Find really good friends who can understand when you are having a really bad day. Have someone you can vent with, a friend who won’t judge you when you verbalise that you have had enough of the juggle, the kids, your job, your husband, the bills, the chores the endless washing of cricket whites because that day will happen and when it does, you shouldn’t carry the load alone.

Don’t forget to laugh and breathe and enjoy the opportunity to buy a coffee on your own. Sounds like something you would say to the kids but it is a great tonic for the return to work challenges.

About Liz

Liz had a successful fifteen-year marketing career at two of Australia’s leading companies. On the day she walked out the door to start a family, she planned a one year break with an expectation of walking back into work and picking up where she left off. Ten years later and four amazing children, she rejoined the workforce.  Liz talks frankly about the challenges of retuning to work and offers some great practical advice on how she made a ten year career gap a positive experience for both herself and her employer.


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