Leading business women say career breaks are a doubled-edged sword

Media Release, 04 November 2013

A poll of Australia’s leading business women has revealed that while a career break is often perceived as negatively impacting a woman’s career, it can also be a catalyst to reassess a career path, become an entrepreneur, or try something new.

In a poll of 115 state and territory finalists of the 2013 Telstra Business Women’s Awards, 89 per cent of respondents say women face challenges when returning to work after a career break – for extended travel, study leave, maternity leave or other reasons.

Thirty-six per cent say a break spurred women on to try something different, 55 per cent believe taking time out could be positive as it enables women to reassess their life and career, and 87 per cent agreed that taking on parenting responsibilities could actually be a catalyst to becoming an entrepreneur.

The poll on the impact of career breaks also shows that:

  • Four in ten women say they find it difficult to re-enter the workforce in the same capacity
  • One-third believe it negatively impacts wealth creation
  • Twenty per cent believe women find it difficult to be considered for a role equal to their experience.

Other responses from the Telstra Business Women’s Awards finalists show:

  • Eighty-two per cent believe Australia’s entrepreneurial culture is alive and well with the five key attributes of women entrepreneurs listed as passion; a hard work ethic; creativity; vision; and innovation.
  • Forty-four per cent of respondents said they have experienced an inequity in pay for a like role held by a male colleague. Asked why the pay gap still exists, 53 per cent said the workplace still favours males and 46 per cent said women find asking for money intimidating.

The survey was undertaken in the lead-up to the national finals of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards in Melbourne on 14 November.

The Awards are in their 19th year of celebrating the achievements of outstanding Australian business women.

Kate McKenzie, Telstra Chief Operations Officer and Telstra Business Women’s Awards Ambassador, said: “The Awards are an important platform for women to share their experiences and the choices they’ve made in their personal and business journeys. These valuable insights provide inspiration for other women to make the best of their talents and opportunities in today’s workplaces.”

Carolyn Creswell, 2012 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year and Managing Director of Carman’s Fine Foods, admitted she was “in labour and punching out the last email” before her first child. She said women who were business owners should plan and put things in place before taking a career break – “It’s amazing how dispensable you are. When you have great people at work, the business just keeps going.”

Jocelyn Parsons, Manager of Salvage and Intervention at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the 2012 ACT Young Business Women’s Award winner, joined the Navy at 17 and took a career break eight years later, moving overseas for a couple of years. Reflecting on her experience she said: “It was the first time I thought about a world outside Defence – it was a chance for me to take stock both personally and professionally. It was the catalyst for me to leave the Navy and to explore new things.”

Karen James, General Manager, Women in Focus, Commonwealth Bank, said: “A career break can provide the opportunity for a person to discover their passions. It’s our experience that many women have used their career break as an opportunity to assess their purpose, which often becomes the catalyst for them to launch their own entrepreneurial venture. At that time we encourage women to seek out social communities, like Women in Focus, to stay connected and get the support they need to grow and thrive.”

The eight women who are finalists for the title of 2013 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year are:

  • Jeannine Biviano, Deputy Director General, Department of Trade and Investment (NSW);
  • Sonja Cox, Director Operational Performance, Policy & Planning, Dept of Corrective Services (WA);
  • Laura McBain, CEO Bellamy’s Organic (Tasmania);
  • Dr Julia Newton-Howes, CEO CARE Australia (ACT);
  • Cheryl Shigrov, Founder of Precious Cargo Education Pty Ltd (SA);
  • Sadhana Smiles, CEO Harcourts Victoria (Victoria);
  • Helen Summers, Owner of Helen Summers Optometrist Eyecare Plus Darwin, (NT);
  • Rosemary Vilgan, CEO of QSuper, (Queensland).

Other awards presented at the event will be the Business Owner Award, Private and Corporate Sector Award, Community and Government Award, Business Innovation Award and Young Business Women’s Award.

More information on the Telstra Business Women’s Awards and the 2013 national finalists can be found on the Telstra Business Women's Awards website.