Three returners from Mastercard’s Relaunch your Career returnship programme share their stories.
Ask someone what a returnship is, and you might get a blank stare. While relatively new to Ireland, these structured higher-level internships act as a bridge back to senior roles for experienced professionals who have taken an extended career break. They are seen as a key initiative to help stem the tide of women who seem to drop off the career ladder and struggle to return to work at senior levels.
The reasons for a career break are varied, and Fernanda Do Carmo, Andrea Crofts and Neha Katoch, who joined Mastercard’s Relaunch your Career programme a month ago, agree that it’s something most women – and, increasingly, men – do at some point in their lives.
‘The IT industry had moved on since I’d left, and the upskilling we received was crucial to securing a role’
– NEHA KATOCH
“I’m originally from Brazil, with a master’s in computer science,” said Do Carmo. “I was working in software development roles in Brazil for 10 years, but I wanted to learn English so I moved to Ireland to study English for a year, and also pursued an MBA. After that I got married and got pregnant, then I stopped working. When my son turned four years old, I wanted to come back.”
Katoch’s route was different. “I’m a qualified engineer. We had some family issues at home; my grandparents passed away and my brother needed some help with studying, so I decided to take some time out to help my family. During this time, I also got married and moved to Ireland. When I moved here, I was trying to get back into IT for some time, but it was difficult. I did different jobs – I was a sub-editor for a while – but the goal was always to get back into the IT sector.”
‘I thought that things had moved on too much and I didn’t have the confidence’
– ANDREA CROFTS
Sometimes, it just feels like the right time to take a career break, as Crofts found. “I got married and had my son in 1999, and then my daughter in 2000. I was working part-time but, before the birth of my third child, an opportunity for voluntary redundancy came up, so I took it. I went back to a job somewhere local, where I could take the summers off – it suited me at the time.
“I always wanted to get back into IT but I felt it had been too long. I’d look at job descriptions and think, ‘I don’t have this, this or this.’ I thought that things had moved on too much and I didn’t have the confidence.”
Katoch and Crofts took part in the free Women Reboot programme run by Technology Ireland, which supports experienced and talented ICT women who have taken a career break from the technology sector to develop the skills and competence to confidently re-engage with technology businesses.
“The Women Reboot programme was a really defining moment in my life and career. We got help with our CVs, interview prep and mentoring,” said Katoch, who found the programme online.
‘I went to a lot of interviews, but I struggled to get past the first stage. I think it was because I wasn’t confident, and it showed on my face’
– NEHA KATOCH
Women Reboot works with companies such as Mastercard to find work placements for those on the programme. For Mastercard Ireland’s talent acquisition manager, Gary Lawson, it was win-win.
“We were just putting together our returnship programme when we started working with the Women Reboot programme. It was perfect for us because we could meet talented, skilled applicants who were really suited to our programme and organisation.”
Participants said the training and support they received were invaluable. “The IT industry had moved on since I’d left, and the upskilling we received was crucial to securing a role,” said Katoch. “After the training, I chose Mastercard and Mastercard chose me – it’s my fourth week here now and I’ve learnt a lot, people are so helpful.”
The programme also helped with confidence, said Katoch. “I went to a lot of interviews, but I struggled to get past the first stage. I think it was because I wasn’t confident, and it showed on my face. I was worried they would ask me something technical that I wouldn’t be able to answer.”
Returners are keepers
Another difficulty that came up when trying to re-enter the workplace was convincing potential employers that a career break wasn’t a bad thing. “I did find that I would apply to jobs, and they would see my career break on my CV and then I wouldn’t get any further,” said Do Carmo.
Returnships are the perfect antidote, giving both the employer and employee the chance to see if they’re a good fit. While Mastercard’s returnship is 12 weeks long, the aim is that returners will secure a role at the company permanently. So far, 80pc of Mastercard’s returners globally have stayed on.
“It’s very helpful to come in with people knowing you’ve been on a career break. Plus you’re given training and induction programmes, which really help,” said Crofts.
“I think it would be great if there were more programmes like this. There are so many people who could benefit from them, and so many companies that could benefit from people who have taken a career break.”
‘When I studied computer science, we had a class of over 60 students and there were only four girls’
– FERNANDA DO CARMO
So why are there still so few women working in IT roles? There are multiple reasons, say all three women.
“I think there are lots of issues because there’s still a perception that IT jobs aren’t for women. In my experience, we’re also juggling lots of things – family and children – and that makes it harder,” said Katoch.
For Do Carmo, the problem starts even earlier. “When I studied computer science, we had a class of over 60 students and there were only four girls.” STEM education programmes, such as Microsoft’s work to educate young girls and women on the benefits of technology, and Mastercard’s Girls4Tech programme, are helping with this in Ireland.
“I think the problem is compounded by the fact that so many women have left work as well,” said Crofts. “There are so many skilled women out there who have taken a career break and are looking for a way to get back into work.”
All three women agree that shared childcare between men and women would help.
3 tips for the return to work
What about advice for those who are on a career break and are thinking of a return to work?
1. Keep in touch
“I studied through online portals and researched online the languages that were most in demand in the business world,” said Katoch. “I also kept in touch with friends who were still working in the IT sector so I could keep up to date with what was happening.”
2. Ask for help
“Get help with your CV – ask friends or old colleagues to take a look, and ask them about developments in your industry since you’ve been away,” said Do Carmo.
3. Keep the faith
“Don’t lose hope!” said Katoch. “That’s the biggest thing.”
Andrea Crofts, Fernanda Do Carmo and Neha Katoch all work at Mastercard Dublin on its Relaunch your Career programme. This article was provided by the team at Mastercard Ireland’s Women’s Leadership Network.