What age is deemed too old for a woman to return to work after a career break?

Apparently it is forty. So I have been reliably and rather bluntly informed this week by a head hunter.

Actually, the way he phrased it (“can I ask you a delicate question”) made him (note, ‘him’) come across as conspiratorially in my camp. He backed this up with declarations of his honesty and desire to minimise my disappointment in rejection.

My response followed a vague timeline of emotions.

The initial response was a typically British manner of apologetic embarrassment. I am terribly sorry to be wasting your precious time when you could be speaking to a more worthy (younger) candidate; do please forgive my imposition.

This was probably concurrent with the second (or joint first) sense of shock. It had never crossed my mind that I might be deemed technically over the hill when I am hell-bent on still viewing myself as in my thirties.

Which leads to my third reaction of defensiveness. Not wanting to labour the technicality but I am technically speaking still clinging on to the vestiges of my thirties, albeit by a few fingernails.

Calming the rising flush (not menopausal before you ask), I responded in a deliberately controlled tone, that surely a woman in her forties is no less employable than one in the 25-35 age bracket (his specified optimum hire-ability age range); posing the question, is it really better to hire someone likely to embark on a career break or someone returning from a career break? Neither of whom deserve to be discriminated against for heeding the call of nature to reproduce.

Mr Headhunter, not enjoying the direction of conversation, proceeded to chivy along the call to a close. I offered him my contact details (again) in the hope of being considered for any future roles that arise, which he was polite enough not to decline. Whether or not he even jotted them down I don’t know. Hastily wishing me luck in my future ventures (a true indicator that I shall not hear from him any time soon with any job offerings) he hung up.

With the passing of adequate hours to stew over the accusation and implication that a five or so year career hiatus, combined with being on the precipice of my Big Four-Oh, renders me ultimately redundant and unemployable, now gives rise to a sense of injustice. A twelve year career reduced to scrap fodder.

Would a man having taken a similar break be deemed equally unfit? I can’t answer that.

Despite the ongoing talk of encouraging women back into the workplace, the evidence is glaring that there is a long way to go. Mindsets need to evolve and embrace not just the notion of mothers reintegrating into careers they spent hard years building, but also the reality.

It is no new news that women are breaking glass ceilings left, right and centre, as the business pages tirelessly and tantalisingly remind us. And certainly there is nothing new about women engendering the next generation. But if depicted in my six year old’s Venn Diagram, I wonder how big the overlap set would be? And if we added a third hypothetical circle, ‘women who take a career break to raise a family’ to the diagram as a subset of ‘women who have children’, how would that affect the overlap? (Note Diagram is for purely hypothetical illustrative purposes and is not based on scale nor statistics).

Answers on a postcard.

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The ‘Burbs

[This article was first published on 21st January 2010, on http://life.hereisthecity.com/sound_off/1162.cntns].

In a disillusioned phase of thinking my writing might, could or would be published one day, I rather vainly penned my brief memoirs of that lifetime ago I spent cavorting in the City. Worry you not, that pipedream was more rapidly and potently flushed away than by an almighty dose of heavy duty Domestos. The shelving of the book that will never be more than pixels rather than tangible paper pages is not the subject of today’s navel gazing. It is the Epilogue I was pondering this morning in a moment of suburban silence, as I assessed my current surroundings and compared them to the denouement I had envisaged. The Epilogue is interestingly the only fictional chapter of the dust-gathering book; in a gaudy attempt at a Happy Ever After ending, formulaic of fairytales and Disney films.

But the sun didn’t quite shine on the picket fence on the day we moved out of our London abode and into our suburban sanctuary. In actual fact, it coincided with the start of the unimaginatively monikered ‘Big Freeze’. Furthermore, the rental property had been without heating for the past month and the closest thing to a picket fence was a rusty gate on a limp hinge. Home sweet home.

Though I might now (just) be able to say that things have thankfully gone uphill since square one, it is more a consequence of things careering on a freefall trajectory downhill for a good month before embarking on a slow and Herculean struggle back up the summit. The first month was a haze of boxes and bubble wrap. Then suddenly Mr A went back to work and Baby Bel and I were all alone.

What was once viewed as the Rolls Royce of nimble and compact baby buggies in the context of urban living became utterly devoid of use in the inches of snow. We were officially housebound – on alien territory, friendless and trapped; imprisoned in a house that didn’t feel like home. Not to mention the lying awake in the night listening to the unfamiliar sounds of the house creaking and foxes screaming – not dissimilar to that of a woman being strangled (I imagine), which some may suggest holds some deeper Freudian interpretation. 

Aside from the revelation that our undertaking to up sticks to the suburbs is significantly more common than I ever thought possible (the streets are literally paved with baby buggies and there are small people aka children everywhere – it’s like living in Lilliput); plus that it is not a myth about service being substandard outside cities (don’t get me started on this); and also that Mr A despises his daily armpit to armpit commute and Baby Bel sees less of him than she ever has, things are just hunky dory.  In all seriousness, I am yet to regret this move despite how it may sound. Wearing my long term investment hat, this is just a short term blip. Somewhere on the horizon lies our picket fenced home, a good local school and a family friendly environment to raise little ones – fairytale ending and Disney theme tune optional.

So begins my journey from banking, baby and beyond, to the ‘burbs and baby number two. And judging from the perfect domesticity of yummy mummies at every turn, sipping their skinny lattes in their fuzz-free cashmere, so also should begin my quest for Stepford wife status.

Blog virgin

My name is Mrs A and I’m an ex-banker.

To be precise, I’m an ex-stockbroker but banker serves as a convenient umbrella term. And strictly speaking, I’m not actually (yet) a banker of the ‘ex’ variety. However, I am on maternity leave, plus I was made redundant while on said maternity leave so the ‘ex’ is just a matter of time.

These days, it’s as shameful to be a banker as it is to be an alcoholic. But like the recovering alcoholic, I’m hoping to seek some reprieve given my status as a recovering banker.

It’s been 1 month shy of a year since I turned my back on the cocoon of my old life, swapping broking for baby, and simultaneously turned my life upside down, inside out, with a shake all about. Being a mother is exhilarating beyond the value of million dollar deals; it has given me a renewed outlook on, and purpose in, life. But it is also undeniably lonely on more than the odd occasion. Surrounded by nothing but the resounding sound of my own voice and the indecipherable and sometimes insatiable cries of a baby, the thoughts in my head are my only escape valve.

To those out there like me – nostalgic, regretful (not of what I’m doing now but of what I didn’t do when I could) , hopeful and striving to reconcile the dual identity of self BC (before child) with AD (after delivery), you’re not alone. Welcome to my world.