It certainly wasn’t down to enthusiasm from most of the publishing industry, where feedback to our proposal included the following:
“Career books for women don’t sell”
“Arianna Huffington & Sheryl Sandberg have said pretty much all there is to say on this subject”
“Have you thought of making it gender neutral?”
So why did we persist?
Honestly? Because we thought it was needed. We searched and searched and could find nothing out there that puts this level of information, insight and practical advice all into one place. In a way that’s accessible, interesting, creative and, occasionally, funny (are we allowed to say that?).
She’s Back was born on a park bench, just outside a cafe in a popular London park. I had taken a break from work when my children were 4 and 6. My childcare arrangements had blown up, I’d missed out on a promotion. I felt as though I was failing at work and at home, so I resigned. What no-one told me was that having young children is a temporary condition. Fast forward 4 years and there I was, wondering what happened to my career, wondering what I was going to do for the next 20 years.
Deb, my partner in this venture, had taken a different tack, becoming a freelance consultant when it became clear that a career as a theatre director didn’t fit well with being the mother of two young boys.
So that’s how Deb and I found ourselves sitting on that park bench one day, looking at the women in the cafe, fresh from school drop off. We realised we knew them all as “Mums of” and “Used to bes”. Cassie is Archie’s mum, she used to be an advertising exec; Ayesha is Ifra’s mum, used to be a lawyer. You get the drift.
Time for some Fact Finding
We had a hunch that many of these women might be feeling like me. Ready to return; ambitious for the next phase of their working lives. And that here was one of the solutions to the lack of women at senior levels. And the gender pay gap. And all sorts of other evils.
So we did some research. We reached 2,000 individual women, crunched responses to over 40,000 questions and ran countless workshops to hear their views. Most told us they did want to return to work, to reclaim their careers – and outlined the obstacles and challenges they could see ahead.
Many women felt the same: and many had the same questions and frustrations
“Surely someone out there values the skills and experience I have?I had a baby not a lobotomy.”
“Why is it so difficult to find flexible work? Can’t I be trusted to decide where and when work gets done?”
“I’ve sent my CV to twenty or more recruiters. I never even get a call back.”
“Is it worth it …. what I earn will barely cover childcare …”
The Bones of a Book
Do books have bones? Not sure, but they definitely have body matter. And in the course of our work, we came across lots of experts who could provide the answers to some of these questions.
Victoria McLean at City CV, for example, could explain to us why Applicant Tracking Systems, used by most recruiters, will reject CVs that don’t use the right key words or contain a career break. Reading articles by Sallie Krawcheck, founder of Ellevest, we quickly learnt why it’s important to take a long term view before you answer that question about whether it’s “worth it” from a financial perspective. Digesting books like Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought: Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives gave us fresh perspectives on an age old problem. And talking to people like Karen Mattison, founder of Timewise, provided insight into some practical solutions, in her case around how to make flexible working a reality.
Added to that, Deb and I had spent years using models, tactics, tools and theories to help organisations improve and change. We decided it was about time we translated all of the hard core learning material we knew inside out and made it work for women.
Driven by an overwhelming desire to give people the information they needed, in one place, we concluded that this book had to be written.
So here it is. It draws on the advice of the experts above and more; it contains stories and anecdotes from over 30 women and men who wanted to share their experience; it references all the books and articles on the subject that we think are noteworthy; and each chapter ends with a checklist of actions and list of other useful resources. In one place.
Turns out the brilliant, inspirational Arianna Huffington disagrees with those publishers. Meeting her over the summer last year, she was in total agreement that getting more women back into the workplace is a hugely important cause. She agreed to endorse our book. I’ll leave the last words to her.