Kirsten Muir discusses the difficulties surrounding a work gap and how she became Partner Manager at Leaf, with the aid of the Women Returners Scheme.
In this day and age, when women are supposed to be nearly, if not entirely equal to men, why is it that we still need return to work schemes for women?
Don’t get me wrong, I applaud them. If it wasn’t for the Women Returners Program Scotland by Virtual Internships, I wouldn’t be in the position I am right now, but it’s sad that this is something that’s even needed.
We’re at a point in society in which people are starting to overlook the issues women face in the workforce because it’s so often spoken about. People assume things are better but there is still a massive gap in support for women that do decide to start a family or care for a family member. Men are also affected by this and the numbers have been increasing in recent years, but it still affects a higher number of women. Plus women have all the lovely physical side effects of having children.
I started working in retail straight out of school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and not long after I started caring for a family member full-time. Once I had some more free time, I started looking for a job. But as I had been out of work for so long nobody would entertain an interview.
When I had kids, work went on the back burner and the longer I was out of work, the more scary the thought of returning to work got.
When I had my first kid we spent a lot of time going to classes and parks but outside of those activities most days were spent in the house. Babies make normal daily tasks outside a chore.
I’ve heard people say they’d love to have a lifestyle of lounging around, but what they don’t realise is that going outside of your house can suddenly become something negative when it doesn’t happen. Speaking to strangers or just being in big open spaces felt really scary even for someone like me who was social and loved the outdoors.
Until covid and lockdown hit that is, I heard more people talking about “the fear” of going into the world again. This was when my second kid was born. We lived in a tiny bubble with two tiny humans; not the worst thing in the world but it makes stepping outside of that hard for everyone involved. Staying home where it’s “safe” seems easier but no one can progress doing that.
One day my fiancé came across a social media post about the Women Returners Program and I decided to sign up. In all honesty, in the first couple of weeks, I felt like giving up. I was surrounded by professional women that had also been out of work, but they had proper work histories and qualifications. I felt very low and thought I was just wasting everyone’s time, especially the women I had been grouped up with.
However, I stuck at it and was assigned a host company for a project. I met with Leaf, they really helped open my eyes to the skills I already had and gave me more confidence in myself. Parents don’t give themselves credit for the skills they gain in raising a child: time keeping, organisation and negotiation, to name a few.
We did three presentations over three weeks, after being given a short brief.
Each week we split the tasks between us: everyone researching a particular topic; two or three presenting; one making the slides; one editing the research to fit on them; and one screen sharing. Everyone had a turn of presenting too, even if it was terrifying but Leaf were very happy with what we achieved in the end.
My eyes were opened to remote work and how asynchronous work can make things easier for a multitude of reasons. A couple that were particularly attractive to me were the ability to think about things and work on them in my own time – getting a coffee and giving the cat a scratch – and not having to be the loudest in the room to be heard. I’m quite an unsure person at times so don’t always find it easy to voice opinions, but if I’m able to submit work in a way that people can read/hear “offline” then I can solidify a thought before I need to commit to it.
The Women Returners Program helped me build a CV, taught me new skills and gave me references. It even put me in touch with a careers advisor who helped me look at my interests from a different angle, to see them as skills and strengths to be applied.
Still, I found myself stuck once the program ended, as most employers are still wary about hiring somebody after a career break. But with the connections I made (from both mentors and other women returners) I was able to solidify a decision about what I wanted to do and was given a chance to prove myself in a role I would have never have dreamed of seeing myself in, here at Leaf.
For anyone looking at the Women Returners Program and wondering if it’s for them, my advice is…give it a try.
The only real cost is time and it’s only a few hours a week. The benefits are huge, even if the only thing you take away is a fresh CV and an up to date reference, every little helps. Though if you lean into it and use all the resources offered to you, the sky’s the limit.