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Maternity leave

Back to work after a six-year mommy gap Add to ...

Motherhood is a significant reason why men continue to earn more than their female counterparts, according to a Toronto-Dominion Bank report released last week - and the more frequently women take time away from work to have children, the harder it is to close the wage gap.

The findings of the report will be shared with participants of a new three-month program at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management called Back to Work. Sponsored by TD, it's designed to help women reenter the work force after an extended leave.

Anne Pemberton, 44, of Richmond Hill, Ont., is among the program's participants. She is looking to rejoin the work force after a six-year absence to take care of her four sons, now aged 6 to 15.

She was employed for nearly 15 years at Bell Canada, where her last job was as an associate director of Bell's enterprise call centres, handling the telecommunications demands and billing of high-end business clients.

Ms. Pemberton would like to return to a similar full-time, corporate position that offers a salary comparable to her last job's, around $90,000, but she wonders whether that's a reasonable expectation.

"I want to be paid for the talent and the skills that I bring to the job, and I'm unsure of what opportunities [I am]going to come across," Ms. Pemberton says. "From a career perspective, the most daunting part is who's going to hire me?"

We asked experts from across the country for their take on her best moves.

Gregg Taylor , president of Vancouver-based Transitions Career and Business Consultants Inc. :

Before scoping job openings, the first step is to take stock of what her values and priorities are now.

"Quite often what happens is ... people jump back in with the same mindset and approach as the last time they looked for work, even though their life has changed," Mr. Taylor says. "So they run into even internal conflicts when they're looking, because they realize pushing for what they had before ... may not fit in the lifestyle they have now."

Depending on her current lifestyle needs and what she wants out of work - whether it's money, collegiality or the ability to express herself creatively - she could find she's more suited to becoming a consultant, or that the non-profit sector is more in line with her current interests.

On the other hand, he says Ms. Pemberton doesn't have to take a big step back. "You can build on the foundation you built in your very last position."

To do that, she should get in touch with former co-workers and bosses from her last position - not necessarily to look for a job, but to find out what has changed in the industry and to get a snapshot of what's happening. For example, since her absence it's possible that her previous role has been outsourced or split into several jobs.

From there, she can determine where her skills are needed in the marketplace.

Sherri Olsen , Calgary-based career coach:

Don't sell yourself short.

Ms. Pemberton should not feel worried about her six-year gap, especially since she has stayed active within her community, volunteering with her sons' hockey association and with the parent council at their school.

"When she's presenting herself to a potential employer, there's nothing to hide. It is what it is: '… Here I am today because I took some time to raise my family,' " Ms. Olsen says. "It's all how she feels about herself and how she presents it."

There may be some skills she needs to brush up on, but as long as Ms. Pemberton is up to date on the trends of her industry, she'll likely be a good manager today if she was a good manager six years ago.

Those making a career transition, regardless of whether they've taken a break, should ask for their old salary, if not for a wage increase.

"Don't walk in feeling all behind, because that's what [you]rsquo;ll get."

Mary Heisz , faculty director of the ReConnect program for returning professional women at The University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business:

Get out and physically meet people.

It might be easy to communicate via Facebook and e-mail, but Ms. Pemberton will likely need to get out and meet face-to-face to establish personal contacts again.

Although former colleagues might provide good information about the marketplace, they won't likely lead her to her new position, especially if her career goals have changed since her absence.

Joining professional organizations is a good way to start expanding her networks, and if she identifies a place where she wants to work she could try calling up someone who currently works there and invite them out for coffee to pick their brain.

Ms. Pemberton should find someone who has walked in her shoes to provide support and guidance, both when looking for work and in those first few weeks at a new job.

"It would be great to have a champion that says, 'Yes, it is hard work, but look where I've landed and yes, you can do this.' "

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