1. Talk to peers about development activities they're doing

This isn't about keeping up with the Joneses but tapping into what the peers you admire are doing, in order to get your mind whirring about what's right for you. Which talks/lectures/blogs/people would you get something from following? Where are they contributing their thoughts/opinions? What courses gave them things they could usefully apply immediately at work? Do they have a personal development budget? How have they pitched for funding and time off to their line managers? What projects/cases are they working on that you could support?

"Take your time in getting back up and running. Act professionally at work, be on LinkedIn, work with colleagues on a variety of cases, even assisting rather than taking full responsibility initially for cases etc. Use business development wherever possible and without infringing on your own time too much to get back out there and meet people."

Nicola Hogg, solicitor, West Lothian Council

2. Make a contribution to a project that stretches you

Do you know what your strengths are? It’s highly likely you have some talents and abilities that are going untapped in your current role (and some strengths that have been overused to the point that you're de-energised using them). Once you identify your unrealised strengths, have a look at what's going on beyond your current role that could be a way for you to use them and raise your profile. The Centre for Applied Positive Psychology has a useful strengths-tool, Realise2, you could work through with a coach - see http://www.cappeu.com/realise2.aspx. Research tells us that focusing on using strengths, as opposed to fixing perceived weaknesses, is the key to greater performance and engagement.

3. Help others, be seen as collaborative

In what situations can you advocate for someone else? There's a great story in Sheryl Sandberg's book ,Lean In, about women talking each other up and how that helps every woman with promotion and pay increase prospects. Additionally, when others seek your help and you feel too busy or unable to help, use the 'partial yes' technique: identify part of their challenge that you can easily assist with and do it rather than giving a flat 'no'. You'll be remembered positively for saying ‘yes’, even if you only assist in a small way, and it signals you as collaborative, which is particularly important to women's career progression (see research by Heilman and Chen, 2005). By saying ‘yes’ to only part of the othker person's 'ask', you also demonstrate you can be both flexible and firm.

"Be available, be enthusiastic and show flexibility with your time. Work efficiently and differently if need be."

Solicitor, private practice

"There is no difference from before you were on leave. You need to embrace your job. Don't hide in a corner. Be proactive. Help your line manager and colleagues."

Katy Wedderburn, partner, MacRoberts LLP

"When you first come back, don't hide at your desk. Walk round, chat to people. Find out where you can use your skills to assist people with ongoing work, whilst your workload is building up."

Carly Mason, solicitor, MacRoberts LLP

"Returning to work provides an opportunity to re-establish connections with colleagues and others with whom you may have lost touch and also an opportunity to introduce yourself to new colleagues. It is worthwhile identifying where there may be opportunities to work with others in the firm, to present at seminars or deliver internal training and to get involved in firm-wide events and initiatives. These all provide an opportunity to raise your profile and to impress people with your commitment, enthusiasm and capabilities."

Kate Gillies, solicitor, Shepherd and Wedderburn LLP

4. Ask for what you want

Spotted something that would be useful for you to do, have or be involved in that will enhance your performance, make you more appealing to clients, reduce costs and/or earn your organisation more income? Then you owe it to everyone to pitch for it. Think through what key words or reasons would help your line manager get to a ‘yes’ - or who you need to go through to influence him/her - and go for it. The worst result is you're turned down and remembered for being ballsy.

"Keep in touch, show willingness and reasonableness, try to balance your own needs with that of the firm and be prepared to compromise. Work hard and be honest, open and transparent about your expectations and what you are looking to achieve."

Karen Wilkie, solicitor, Peterkins

"Be completely honest and upfront with your line manager about how you see your new role working now you have a family. It is good to discuss mutual expectations of how things will work in practice."

Anna McLaggan, associate, Brodies LLP

Over to you

Some thoughts to get your mind whirring about how you drive your career forward at the pace that's right for you.

  1. Who's mentor material in your eyes? In what ways do you think they could help you? When's a good time for you to approach him/her/them?
  2. If you’d prefer external mentoring, could you become involved with the Society’s mentoring project? Could you become a mentor yourself?
  3. Do you know how your peers are developing themselves? Who could you ask? What tools/courses/blogs would you recommend to them?
  4. Who needs to know about what you've delivered and what you're capable of now that you're back? What might some routes into those people be?
  5. If you could ask for anything and you knew the answer would be ‘yes’, what would you ask your line manager for? What are three steps you could take to make it happen?
Further Resources
  • Our mentoring project
  • Chapter three, 'Success and Likeability' in Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. New York: Random House. Abridged text/audio versions of Lean In at http://talentkeepers.co.uk/sheryl-sandberg
  • Heilman, M. E. and Chen, J. J. (2005). Same behavior, different consequences: reactions to men's and women's altruistic citizenship behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 431-41
  • Executive coaching, including strengths identification
  • Smart career and management blogs:

Talented Ladies Club
Jessica Chivers
Mind Tools
Harvard Business Review
The Guardian - Women in Leadership
The Telegraph Women's Business