Inspirational Woman: Lisa Unwin | Founder, She’s Back

Lisa UnwinLisa is the founder of She’s Back.

Prior to taking a career break, Lisa had a 20 year career in professional services. She joined Arthur Andersen where she became a partner in 2001, specialising in leadership, communication and change management.
When Andersen was acquired by Deloitte in 2002, Lisa led a programme to address the challenges of merging two very different cultures.  She later became Director of Brand and Communication.
Lisa founded She’s Back in 2014, in response to the lack of clear opportunities for women to return to professional life after taking a career break.  Research undertaken in 2015 by She’s Back, the University of Edinburgh Business School and sponsors from five different sectors, highlighted the scale of untapped potential in this particular talent pool.
She’s Back campaigns to raise awareness of the potential, skills and experience offered by women returning to work after a career break or career hiatus.  Lisa collaborates with other related organisations to find opportunities for women to return to work and to provide women with advice and support to get them “job ready.”  Lisa is a contributing writer for Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global and columnist for PwC’s Strategy & Business magazine.
Together with Deb Khan, Lisa has written She’s Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work which Arianna Huffington describes as a “Must have guide to get more women back into the workplace”.  The book is packed full or advice, tips, tactics and areas for action, drawing on Lisa’s own research and the stories of many real women and men.  One reader described it as being “Practical, positive, warm, honest and a story of hope.”
This autumn, Lisa launched the Reignite Academy, a unique collaboration between six City Law firms to enable experienced lawyers to return to the field.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I currently split my time between two roles – She’s Back and the Reignite Academy.

At She’s Back help women get their careers back on track after a break of any kind.  Our book, She’s Back: Your Guide to Returning to work was published earlier this year.

I am also the co-founder of the Reignite Academy, which is a collaboration between 6 city law firms to hep career break lawyers return to practice.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, absolutely.  I was determined to be financially independent and chose a “hard” skills degree – Banking and Finance, followed by a graduate scheme with Arthur Andersen where I worked first as an auditor and then as a management consultant.  Everything went to plan and I made partner at 36.  Then things went awry.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

I thought that making partner was the pinnacle of my career, but soon after Andersen collapsed under the weight of the Enron scandal.  The firm was bought by Deloitte, where I became Director of Brand and Communication.   The wheels came off when my children were four and six, about to start full time school, my partner was working abroad every week, our nanny resigned and I couldn’t figure out how I could combine a big job with with school age children.  I resigned with no plan.

Fast forward five years, my kids were nine and 11 and I realised I had twenty years ahead of me and no clear way back.   I quickly realised there were hundreds of women in a similar situation and that’s why I set up She’s Back.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have been very lucky to have had a number of mentors during my working life.  When I first set up She’s Back, a leadership coach called Averil Leimon, founder of the WhiteWater group was an amazing adviser and mentor.

Today, I have some very supportive relationships with a number of women all working in the same field but with different skills sets.  I think now we sort of mentor each other.

What do you want to see happen within the next five years when it comes to diversity?

My field is women and whilst I know there is a lot more to diversity than that, this is where my expertise lies.  I would like to see it become more normal and accepted that women’s careers do not follow straight lines.  It needs to be easier to get back after a break or a period when you have stepped back.  And not just to a “job” but to a career, with progression and development opportunities and all that entails.

In turn, this means challenging the ageism that sees women written off if they haven’t “made it” by 38.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Ageism.  I meet so many women whose careers stalled in their late thirties, and who, in their late forties have boundless energy, tonnes of life experience and ambition aplenty, but who cannot get the roles they deserve.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Writing our book.  It was a labour of love and at the same time it was hard work.  And having Arianna Huffington describe it as “ A must have guide to get more women back to the workplace”

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Our next challenge is making the Reignite Academy a roaring success so that many more firms get involved next year.

What would your advice be to your younger self/young women starting out in their careers?

Play the long game.  Treat motherhood and careers like a game of chess.  If you have to make sacrifices, like passing up a promotion, or going part time for a while, or saying “No” to a great assignment because it doesn’t fit with your family commitments, that’s fine but make sure you are making some moves that will position you to win in the future.  That might mean finding a great mentor, investing in your network, learning something new.

Be a player.

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