There has been a lot of emphasis and encouragement for the financial services industry to help people return to work after a career break.
Whether that is for personal or professional development, to cater for a sick relative or raise children; more often than not, it is women who have to take time off work.
This is why creating initiatives such as returners’ schemes or allowing flexible working to help them ease back into their working life can make a massive difference.
To celebrate International Women’s day, International Adviser reached out to female professionals to understand what their experience was like when they decided to go back to work.
Have a plan
Gemma Siddle is the director of client services and a chartered financial planner at Eldon Financial Planning.
When she had her daughter in 2015, she had it all set out.
“The plan was that I’d have three months off after she was born,” Siddle said. Then she would go back two days a week for a month, and then progressively add a working day every month after.
She said she was able to come to such an arrangement thanks to her employer’s flexibility and understanding.
For instance, she was moved to the office’s ground floor while pregnant, because climbing two flights of stairs started becoming difficult.
“I was never really intending on having lots of time off and I worked right up until the evening I [gave] birth.”
But, unfortunately, not everything went as planned.
“I dictated what I wanted and what I didn’t want, but it all fell apart. I had quite bad post-natal depression to the point of suicide,” Siddle admitted.
“I got referred to a psychiatric hospital on a weekend, I was allowed to be on my own for a month, and I just started going back to work at that point.
“I was in work a couple of days a week. And I was really struggling with it.”
That’s when she decided to talk to her manager about it. “They said we will manage, don’t think about us, don’t worry.”
After a while, Siddle’s psychiatrist suggested that going back to work might have helped her situation, and so she did.
“I have a fantastic husband; he quit his full-time job to become a stay-at-home dad to support me.
“I agreed with my workplace [to have] more flexibility. I had flexible start times, flexible hours, I came in and did what I could, and I wanted to. If I couldn’t come in, there was no pressure, no questions asked.
“I took the responsibility myself of making sure loose ends were tied up and things were handled even if I couldn’t handle it.
“It really helped my mental health get back on track,” she added.
‘It’s just about the approach’
Siddle credits most of her willingness to go back and continue working to her employer’s attitude towards her situation.
“We’re not a big firm. We’re not in the position to provide amazing benefits that some huge firms [do], like a year off work with full pay.
“But sometimes it’s not about the money. It’s just about the approach and the support and knowing that everyone’s doing the best they can to get the best outcome they can.
“It would be nice to see it as a culture within the industry. Without doubt, I think the more firms that do it and shout about it, the better,” she said.
Setting up business
Lisa Everitt had a very different experience.
She decided to take a career break in 2007 after her family relocated to London from Ireland for her husband’s job.
“I decided to take time off from my career and be a stay-at-home mum so I could focus on raising our three young daughters, something I enjoyed for 10 years.
“But in 2017, I decided to join the St James’s Place (SJP) Academy. I was particularly drawn to [it] because it allowed me to gain the qualifications I needed to become a financial adviser and set up my own business,” she said.
“Getting back into work after a prolonged career break was a daunting prospect, and I often think women are held back by a lack of confidence and self-esteem.
“I wanted to become financially independent, be a role model and create a legacy for my girls, and that was my driver.”
Cater for modern families
Everitt is now an associate partner at SJP but says the sector still has a long way to go.
“The industry is still male-dominated, and firms could do more to embrace women in the workplace and understand how women can benefit businesses.
“Firms need to create a more flexible environment, which can accommodate the lifestyle demands of a modern family.
“This will cultivate a better working culture with mental wellbeing at the heart of it, and this will ultimately inspire loyalty within employees.”
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, International Adviser spoke with women across the financial advice and wealth management industry to understand their experiences and what needs to be done to support an ever-changing, diverse workforce.