Case Study:

The powerful efforts of Challenges Catalyst to break down barriers for women returning to work

Wednesday 16 March 2022
Challenges Catalyst designed Making Work Work as an online course to facilitate the dismantling of barriers at work. We spoke to them about the programme’s pilot, named as the Honourable Mention for CMI’s Outstanding Innovation and Delivery Award in 2021.
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Managing change with resilience

The pilot’s content and training sessions were designed to give the 16 participants a greater understanding of flexible working benefits and modern Management and Leadership practices. This meant that the women on this course would be adaptable and resilient when returning to the workplace, with a strong foundation of knowledge to rely upon.

Lynn Houmdi, Programme Manager for Making Work Work, highlights that CMI content has been integrated into the programme in order to create a nuanced approach to training delivery.

“A lot of women returners don’t earn their potential or work as many hours as they could. This is due to work or childcare inflexibility, a lack of confidence and limited networks. To tackle this issue, Making Work Work emphasises Management and Leadership skills that could be transferred into any sector or career path. During the pilot, our approach was therefore deliberately sector agnostic and inclusive. We empowered these women to confidently return to positions of influence where they could develop a workplace plan that suited them. They could also contribute to changes in the broader economy to support more family friendly, fairer and flexible working.”

As such, 94% of participants reported feeling a lack of belief in flexible working at the beginning of the pilot programme. In contrast, at the end 100% expressed awareness of flexible-working benefits and wanted to actively seek them in their careers.

According to Challenges Catalyst, CMI accredited M&L training became integral to the pilot programme.

“The training updated these women’s knowledge, whilst the Level 5 qualification provided an edge when returning to the workplace. Pursuing this achievement has therefore enabled participants to become better informed and more responsible managers.”

Building self-confidence

Throughout the pilot, participants highlighted that they had increased in self-conviction and adaptability. These essential skills were mapped against the Level 5 qualification’s core values in M&L training. This involved a combination of elements, such as reframing the interview process through various techniques and helping participants to write their CVs.

One participant, Helen*, spent years in social work with vulnerable children and families. When made redundant two years ago, she lost her self-esteem and began avoiding applications. Helen only applied to the Making Work Work pilot on her husband’s encouragement. Having taken part in the programme, Helen’s passion for her work has been reinvigorated and she has a new sense of voice. Her self-opinion has changed and she has found herself more resilient to workplace challenges.

“Thanks to Making Work Work, I am going back to child protection work with new-found confidence. I will be working with children with disabilities, a new area for me. This means using my expertise whilst facing new challenges. It is the most excited and optimistic I’ve felt in months!”

Leading the programme, Lynn has seen participants gain increased self-belief.

“The peer led approach at the heart of the programme is vital in allowing the participants to recognise themselves as skilled, talented and experienced professionals, when placed in a group with whom they associate these qualities.”

Overall, participants' self-assurance in applying themselves to a workplace environment grew from 38% to 73% on average over the course of the pilot.

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Confirming self-management skills

Participants also expressed increasing faith in their self-management capabilities. This realisation was nurtured in CMI accredited training sessions by exploring how participants could mould their skill sets to the changing landscape of Management and Leadership.

Denise* had worked in Scotland and abroad supporting women who have experienced domestic violence, but took a break to raise her family. She came to Making Work Work to utilise her skills and feels that the course has given her greater self-awareness.

“The programme has solidified some of the core management experience and skills I already had and it has reconfirmed my own passion and purpose - empowering women.”

Managing this programme, Lynn has witnessed the galvanising potential of M&L training.

“Not only has learning Management and Leadership theories allowed participants to update their knowledge, it has equipped them with the confidence to challenge some workplace practices and offer practical solutions.”

Greater self-management has prompted the pilot’s participants to explore other avenues of professional development. Several have embarked on further learning, whilst 11 are volunteering or considering it.

Inspiring entrepreneurism

As a result of their increased confidence, participants are planning for the future.

Before Making Work Work, Jane* found it hard to reconcile the idea that she could be both a mother and work. She took an extended break as a commercial lawyer and senior legal advisor to raise two young children. Since then, Jane has struggled in similar positions. But, Jane now has a revived sense of inspiration and creativity due to her participation in the programme’s pilot. She wants to apply her ambition and skills into establishing a social entrepreneur mentoring service as a start-up.

“I am realising that I am more dynamic and have more to offer. We should celebrate breaking the mould.”

In total, 5 participants are currently considering or working through start-up, and a further 7 participants want to apply themselves to the third sector. All participants continue to engage with each other through an Alumni network.

An amazing 81.5% of women who took part in the Making Work Work pilot were in work 6 months after the course had come to an end. Due to this fantastic success, the programme is being scaled-up to support 125 more women by the end of March 2022.

*Names of participants are pseudonyms to preserve their anonymity.

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