Aisha Ghani CA, Finance Business Partner at Sue Ryder, discusses her return to work, de-bunks stereotypes of sole carers and shares her advice for those who may be in a similar situation.
You have recently returned to work after an extended career break. What influenced you to take this time away from work?
Having trained and qualified as a Chartered Accountant at EY Glasgow, I subsequently joined a large locally based Plc where I spent 2 years before relocating to London to join a NASDAQ listed media company. I spent 5 years at this organisation where I enjoyed rapid progression to director level in a series of financial planning and analysis roles.
My roles prior to my career break have all been in fast-paced, dynamic organisations. When I chose to start a family, maintaining this pace without extended family support in London would have been very challenging, however, I was very fortunate to be in the position to take a career break at this time.
What were the main driving factors for your return to work?
My intention was always to return to work when my youngest child reached the age of 5. However, my own personal circumstances unexpectedly changed, and I was suddenly the sole carer and full financial provider to my three young children.
This inevitably changed my immediate priorities and resulted in an earlier than planned return to work, with a re-assessment of what an ideal first step back to the profession may look like for me now.
Balancing work with the care and attention children need is tricky at the best of times in a conventional family set up, and even more challenging when it all falls to one.
How much was the decision to change sector driven by your need for greater flexibility at work?
With a network of friends, family and ex-colleagues, spanning across various sectors and specialisms, I was fully aware that the flexible working options often advocated by firms (pre-covid), did not always translate in reality. Reflecting on this, I understood it was vital for me to make an informed decision early on as to what sector would best serve me at this stage of my career.
It was important that I found an environment where I would be recognised and valued for the experience I bring to the table, but also a place where I would feel confident about being ‘understood’. With women making up two-thirds of the voluntary sector workforce, I questioned why this was the case when the gender equality statistics are glaringly different across most other sectors. Flexibility plays a huge role here and so does representation.
How do you feel representation has helped you in your situation?
In my capacity at work, I am a member of both the Finance and Fundraising Senior Leadership Teams. Both teams are led by female directors who are members of the Executive Leadership team, which is in turn led by our CEO, also female. They are each individually inspiring and talented in their respective roles, and they are supportive, inclusive and flexible in their approach.
I have observed how their behaviour and actions have a ripple effect on the culture and environment at work. They are also all mothers (been there and done that) and, quite simply, they understand. They understand that some factors will be out of your control no matter how much you may be organised or plan around (as it is with anything in life); and trust that you can still deliver, make an impact, and be relied upon, even if you are a sole carer.
I really do feel confident in approaching any of them if there was an issue in respect to work commitments/balance, which most likely wouldn’t be the case if there was the absence of this shared experience. This clearly demonstrates that representation itself is empowering.
What age-old myths would you like the opportunity to de-bunk in relation to the reliability of sole carers in the workplace?
It may not be said out loud as much these days, but there is still the common misconception amongst some in other sectors, that people with caring responsibilities are less reliable than those without.
But actually, when I think of my own personal situation, being the sole carer and provider, I very much need to ensure I am at work and that I am earning. I possibly have more reason to do so than someone without these responsibilities! Equally, I was also informed at a recent school’s parents evening that my children have the highest attendance records – similarly, they have to go to school so I can be productive in my job!
How did you find the process of returning to work after a career break compared to finding a position when you were newly qualified?
It was definitely much more challenging this time around. In terms of the process, things had changed a lot! So much more to do online in terms of maintaining your profile and connecting with recruiters (they very rarely seem to answer calls these days)!
However, the greatest challenge for me was to ensure my first step back was the right one. Not only in terms of flexible working arrangements but having a real passion for the organisation’s purpose and vision, and sharing similar values and beliefs. As a result, I was very selective in the types of organisations and roles I was applying for which required a greater degree of research from the outset.
What advice would you give to someone returning to work after an extended career break?
Be clear on your priorities and focus your efforts in applying for the right roles.
Have someone review your updated CV in the first instance. If possible ask a friend who works in a similar field/level, or research online for case examples.
Leverage on your network – this doesn’t just mean ex-colleagues, but friends and family, neighbours etc. If you know anyone who is working for a company where you have seen an interesting role advertised, ask them to share your CV internally if appropriate.
Prepare for your interview with lots of practice – rehearsing out loud to a friend or even yourself. If you are not familiar with the STAR technique, look it up as many companies use this framework to test on key competencies.
Sue Ryder supports people through the most difficult times of their lives – providing support to those living with a terminal illness, a neurological condition or who have lost someone. To find out more about Sue Ryder or to make a donation, please visit www.sueryder.org