Care Time: When A Career Break Is Best and How Best To Return

Taking a career break to care for a family member is a choice that you may need to make. But you can also return from a work gap. To move forward in your career is important. That’s a given. But to know when you need to step back to take care of family, health or personal concerns is also critical. Sometimes a stint away from your work in a career break is necessary. And yes, it can be a good thing for your long term leadership goals, if not just for your perspective.Christi Shaw, U.S. president of Novartis, made news recently by stepping away from her position to care for her critically ill sister, Sherry Whitford, who was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, according to ABC News.Though the decision put Shaw’s nearly 30-year career on pause, she said leaving her role at the billion-dollar corporation ‘wasn’t a difficult decision,’ Shaw told Felicia Patinkin. She left her position with the billion-dollar pharmaceutical giant to care for her sister daily. Because of her high-paying position, she was able to take time off without an income.[bctt tweet=“Knowing when to step back to take care of family, health or personal concerns is critical.”]“Shaw and Whitford plan to create a foundation to help families in similar situations who don’t have the financial resources to take time off from work or travel and stay in another city for a clinical trial,” Patinkin writes.Caring for family is consistently a consideration women leaders have to make.  Millions of working women are faced with the conundrums of caring for not only sick or elderly relatives and parents, but also children. This is why Baby Boomers are called the sandwich generation because they have caretaking responsibilities on two sides of their lives.A new study from Deloitte on family leave found that caregiving and parental leave for both parents is a key concern for the 1,000 employees surveyed.“Many employees, male and female, are coming to expect the flexibility to support caregiving and family needs, and employers can help by ensuring their people are not stuck deciding between their job and family,” said Deepa Purushothaman, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP and national managing principal of Deloitte’s Women’s Initiative.According to Deloitte: “The survey also found that nearly nine in 10 respondents (88 percent) would value their organizations expanding leave policies to include family care beyond parental leave. This potentially reflects the added pressure that lesser known family needs—such as caring for elderly parents or ailing spouses—put on an employee’s ability to manage their obligations at work and at home.”If you have the resources to take a career break in order to take care of family full time, then be honest and straightforward about your decision when explaining it to others, especially when you re-enter the workforce.Honesty and transparency about your career break go a long way to explaining a gap in your resume.“This probably goes without saying, but you should never exaggerate, hide or lie about any information in the job-search process,” writes Katherine Nobles in Career Builder.“Be upfront when asked about your employment gap but answer with eloquence. Employers want to hear you’ve treated your time off as a period of self-reflection. Again, focus on the positive,” Nobles writes.She suggests you have prepared responses to these questions:

  • What did you learn about the industry during your downtime? What about yourself?
  • What did it teach you about your goals and priorities? How do those relate to the position you’re after?

“By taking time to consider these questions and reframe your personal pitch, you’ll be well on your way to feeling more comfortable and confident explaining your gap during your job search.”It is helpful to look into the tools created to help working mothers jump back into their field.And if you are returning to the workforce after taking time off on a career break to care for children, then finding resources for the niche of returning mothers may be key, according to Chiara Sottile writing for Today.“In addition to programs like ReBoot, designed to get women back up to speed, explore other women- and mother-focused online sites that can jumpstart a job search.The Mom Project is a ‘digital talent marketplace’ that vets and matches professional women with companies. The new site Après is designed specifically for women looking to get back into the workforce. It’s free to join ($250 per year for a premium account) and serves as a digital recruiting platform for companies. There is a mother-oriented network for women called OptIn and one with origins in STEM and engineering called iRelaunch.”Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president, recently wrote about the need for women in leadership to include parenting on their resumes, here.“Parenthood doesn’t just equip you with experiences that come in handy at work. It can actually help you hone the skills that the 21st-century economy is coming to value more and more. And it’s why working parents should start adding parenthood to their resumes, especially women in leadership roles,” Feldt writes.[bctt tweet=“Working parents should start adding parenthood to their resumes -Gloria Feldt”]Don’t underestimate the value of taking a career break when it’s needed. It can be an advantage. Some major companies are actively seeking out women who have taken a career break for many different reasons. General Motors is one, according to Detroit News.“The automaker is part of the Society of Women Engineers and career firm iRelaunch’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Re-Entry Task Force. It’s a group of seven companies offering technical internship programs to women who have been out of the workplace for two years or more. Other companies participating are Cummins Inc., Intel Corp., Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., Caterpillar Inc., Johnson Controls and IBM Corp,” writes Melissa Borden.“There’s a huge pool of talent out there that we didn’t have access to, or weren’t reaching,” said Kristen Siemen, GM’s executive sponsor for the Society of Women Engineers and executive director of global thermal engineering.Borden writes: “The Detroit automaker, which had 400 applicants for its pilot, plans to offer each participant a full-time job as their internships end next week. The interns range from being off for three years to as long as 24 years, and many took time off to raise children, Siemen said.”Women returning to the workplace after time off caretaking is also not a problem unique to the United States.A new initiative in India, “Back on Target,” is helping women there return to careers, according to the Economic Times.“Many women take a career break for reasons like maternity leave and family obligations, and struggle to re-enter the workforce because so much has changed while they were away. This program will give applicants the requisite training, skill-building and mentorship for them to feel confident about getting back to work,” Shalini Natraj, senior director – human resources, Target India, told ET.“The India arm of the Minneapolis-headquartered retail company has already started reaching out to candidates for the program and expects to start sessions for the first intake by the end of July,” according to Brinda Dasgupta. She continues, ”Those with a minimum of three years of relevant work experience and a 2+ year break in their career can apply. The program will go on for 12-16 weeks, and participants will be provided industry-standard stipends, day care reimbursements, food and transport facilities, as well as four days of paid leave during the internship. It will conclude with an intent to hire on the part of the company.”“At Target, we believe that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success. In an effort to find, retain and empower talented and experienced women talent, we launched this program,” said Natraj.And for those who may not benefit from companies with outreach for women who have had a career break or work gaps, here is a list of resources for job search sites.