Making Work Work — for Women Returners

The Challenges Group
4 min readMar 2, 2021

In February 2021, we launched Making Work Work — for Women Returners with our partners, The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and Lynn Houmdi. The programme is funded by the Scottish Government and is a pilot of our approach of helping people who face barriers to finding or creating meaningful work which works with the other commitments and enjoyment of life. Lynn Houmdi, who is also the Project Manager, hosted panel of incredibly inspiring women at the launch on 8 February 2021, all of whom ably evidenced that there is no one right path and that it is possible to work in a way which is purposeful and fits around life. We invited her to reflect on the amazing group of women who have joined us on this journey, which is one of discovery for us as much as for them.

Over to Lynn…

Excluded talent

One of the reasons I advocate for work that works is because of the huge pool of talent which is excluded from the workplace when it doesn’t. The skills, experience and enthusiasm in our cohort are incredible. The 16 women on the programme could all make a huge contribution to a workplace, but who can’t find a way to do so at present. In our group, we have a wide range of skills and experience. One woman was very senior in marketing in the food and beverage industry; another was a social worker supporting families in challenging circumstances. One woman has more than two decades’ experience in the third sector; another is a trained vet and animal behaviourist. Two women come from the publishing industry; two more from the performing arts. Some want to step back into a sector, others want to switch and others just want clarification on their next step. If any of them were able to find work that worked, they wouldn’t be with us.


Research I conducted in 2019 with Challenges demonstrated that the two things which women felt would help them leverage opportunities to return to meaningful work are confidence and networks. The women in our group have transferable and managerial skills already — we are only work with them to refresh and accredit their existing skillsets. But what the vast majority have said they lack is self-confidence. To read CVs which detail incredibly valuable experience and then to read accompanying applications which talk about a lack of confidence or having lost one’s ‘mojo’ is both saddening and reaffirming of the need for our programme. Confidence grows through support and success — we intend for the collective energies, experience and support of all those involved in the programme to enable both.


Being at home looking after kids, elderly parents or one’s self (for example, following an illness) can be incredibly lonely. Being out of the workplace — a ready-made environment of social interaction — compounds that sense of isolation, particularly for extroverts. Add lockdown restrictions into the equation, and we have an isolation perfect storm which reinforces issues around confidence and networks. Many of the women on our programme have already spoken of a need for connection, discussion and interaction that they have been missing for months or years. Our programme provides this — in a personal and a professional sense.

Agency and Peer Support

Our programme isn’t just for mums. Or daughters, for that matter. Although the women have all had a career break of at least 6 months, these are for many reasons, including COVID-related redundancy. What unites them all, regardless of age, life situation or work experience, is their desire to do something to get back into work and to develop their skills and start to apply these in a professional context, and also to improve their own lives and collectively lift each other up and support each other to succeed. The Making Work Work programme has been designed to provide a safe space to learn, grow, and explore through the facilitation of a supportive network of participants, mentors, facilitators and trainers and all of their collective networks.

A multi-faceted programme

The Making Work Work programme consists of 5 elements, which we believe develop skills, confidence and networks for any group facing barriers to making work work. These are:

· Skills refresher curriculum

· Workshops and masterclasses

· Mentoring

· Accredited paring (CMI Level 5 Management & Leadership certificate)

· Post-programme support and signposting

As we work through our core content of CMI management and leadership training, alongside workshops and masterclasses in confidence, courage, flexible working, CV and interview skills and other pertinent topics, I am convinced we, the programme facilitators will learn much about our target audience and how to improve our Making Work Work offer. At the same time, through learning, mentoring and networking, I am sure the women will develop personally as well as professionally, so that they can find or create work that is an integrated part of their lives, rather than one side of a set of scales where balance is unachievable.

If you would like to know more about the Making Work Work programme — as a participant, partner or in order to equip your own workforce for the future, please get in touch.



The Challenges Group

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