Mastercard Relaunch event at Dogpatch Labs
Mastercard’s Women’s Leadership Network hosted an event discussing career breaks and returning to work at Dogpatch Labs. Image: Luke Maxwell

We were on a break: Returners share their stories of going back to work

8 Mar 2018

The experiences of those who have returned to work after a career break are as varied as the reasons why they take them.

While raising a family is a common reason to leave working life behind – and this diversion is primarily taken by women – there are many reasons one may find themselves on a career break.

Many of these were shared at a networking event devised by Mastercard Ireland’s Women’s Leadership Network, ahead of International Women’s Day, to explore the highs and lows of career breaks and returning to work. The event also delved into the practicalities of both, and how employers and other supports can enable these working-life events.

As is well documented on’s Careers channel, the way we work is changing, from the way we measure out the working week to the ‘job for life’ mentality and the notion that careers follow only straight, continuous paths.

“Work happens in brains and not in offices,” Abodoo CEO Sue Marshall told the audience on Tuesday (6 March). She spoke of the “smart working revolution” and urged everyone present to stand up for their right to work remotely and work smart, and “spread the word so that companies come on board, because this is the way of the future”.

Abodoo (which is a portmanteau of ‘abode’ and ‘do’) has capitalised on this flexible work trend by establishing a platform that matches jobs with available remote workers. Some of its clients are looking for fewer hours and shorter commutes to spend time with their kids. One wanted to spend time with her horse. Different lives have very different needs and there’s no reason why, with all the tools we have at our disposal, we can’t accommodate these and keep people, who might otherwise leave, part of the productive workforce.

“The belief that bums on seats equals profitability is as hopelessly ill-adapted to computerised, knowledge-based industries as horses were to warfare in the age of the tank,” is a quote from Gaby Hinsliff’s Half a Wife delivered by Ciara Garvan, founder of WorkJuggle, in her presentation.

WorkJuggle links highly skilled professionals with flexible, remote and contract roles, and Garvan stressed the need for company culture to match this new workers’ ideology. “I really think it’s those companies who are innovative, they’re going to win the war on talent. And they deserve to win the war on talent because they’re doing something different and they’re really being proactive in how they approach their workforce.”

The event, hosted at Dogpatch Labs, showcased how it can work in a company that has accepted a new type of working life. Primarily, the panel discussion at the event highlighted the Mastercard Relaunch programme, which supports high-level professionals returning to work after an extended career break.

These ‘returnships’ offer a three-month paid work placement with plenty of training. There’s no guaranteed role at the end of it, but Keira Lloyd and Nicky King, both now working as directors at the company, are prime examples of what success in the programme can look like.

Lloyd and King are graduates of the Mastercard UK programme, and ‘returners’ are currently on week four of the first programme for Mastercard Ireland. Gary Lawson, global talent acquisition lead, said that the programme is expanding to Mastercard worldwide, and it’s clear why.

“There’s so much untapped talent out there,” he said. “We were [recruiting] in the technology space but it was just phenomenal – the confidence, the skillsets … It was as competitive in terms of trying to hire these people as it was in any normal recruitment process.”

‘I actually found a lot of my skills from years ago are still very relevant’

Andrea Crofts, part of the current programme at Mastercard Ireland, worked in software development for years before taking an extended career break following pregnancy. Considering how rapidly things can change in the software world, returning after 14 years can seem daunting – but a trained and skilled software developer has learned how to learn, and they can learn again.

“I actually found a lot of my skills from years ago are still very relevant,” said Crofts, who also benefited from training with Reboot, a Software Skillnet programme tailored for former ICT workers looking to return to the sector. This, combined with induction training and coaching from Mastercard, has helped her to catch up quickly and effectively.

‘Our children benefited from it too because they saw Dad at home for two-and-a-half years; it’s the norm for them’

Reflecting the world we live in, most returners’ stories started with a break taken to raise children, but there were other stories in the mix. Lawson himself took a career break to travel while broadcaster Louise McSharry – the event’s headline speaker – found herself out of regular work through lack of opportunities in the media sector and, later, while dealing with a cancer diagnosis. And, while it is unusual for a father to take leave from work to be the chief caregiver at home, that was the case for Conor Simpson.

Simpson was with the technology division at IDA Ireland and decided to take time out to support the early years development of his son, who has autism. He echoed a sentiment shared earlier by Garvan that, in Ireland, when you have children with additional needs, the job of balancing work and home life becomes an even greater challenge.

True to the format of the day, Simpson was forthcoming on the difficulties he had in returning to work. He arrived back with no inhibitions, thinking he would slip back into his role as before, but things had moved on in his absence and months had passed before he would acknowledge to himself that something was not right. Fortunately, Simpson said he had the support of an understanding manager and, once he opened up about his problem, his situation improved.

Simpson now encourages all men to consider taking the decision that he and his wife did, believing he is “certainly a better person for doing it”.

“Not only has my son Matthew benefited from it, but I think our other three children benefited from it too because they saw Dad at home for two-and-a-half years; it’s the norm for them. As a family unit, I think it has strengthened us.”

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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