• Laura Hay, Leadership |

Among the career doubts they might encounter, women returning to work after extended leave can face quite a few. They include, “Can I resume my career successfully?” “How will I manage?” and “Can I keep moving up?” What’s worse, they may face these worries in isolation, having been out of their field, or remote from peers, for a year or more.

To allay these qualms, one should talk with seasoned Corporate Director and Retired Vice Chair Jane Kinney who credits her steady networking for helping her restart her career after an absence, making connections to juggle work and family, and finding a new direction when she hit obstacles. Her advice is relevant whether you’re a new mother or a senior executive thinking about future directorships.

Turn to your network for ideas and support

While Jane strikes an enviable stance from her Toronto base, as a director to five organizations, she admits that she faced crossroads where her networks served her well. For example, having worked in internal audit for a bank in Canada, she wasn’t sure how to re-boot her career after she took an extended leave to follow her ex-husband across the country, lecture at local colleges and raise her daughter.

Recounts Jane, “Moving back to Toronto, I had new ambition, but I was only offered a job at my previous level, so I was not impressed.” In response, she reached out to former colleagues and clients, who helped her find a new opportunity that leveraged her extensive banking and capital markets background, right when financial institutions were seeking experienced talent to strengthen their risk management foundations.

She also turned to her network when she worried about her ability to raise her young daughter,  handle intensive client-facing roles, and be caregiver to her ailing mother. “I was never stuck because I couldn’t pick up my daughter after school, because I wasn’t shy about asking a friend or colleague for help,” explains Jane. “I’d reach out, even though not everyone will do this. I think it’s important to rely on your community to help you out, and most people are happy to do that.”

Building such a support network was important since Jane recalls that in the early days of her career there were no female role models. Or the few women who did reach the top ranks appeared to sacrifice work/life balance for their careers.

Jane’s network gave her the confidence to consider bold career decisions, particularly when she was declined a global chairperson role because she was considered “Too ambitious.” “I was seriously offended, and disappointed, but I just told myself that other opportunities would arise, and they did,” says Jane. “If you’re confident, and you don’t accept the feedback, there will be other opportunities. And if not, you can vote with your feet.”

Make time to network, in a hybrid world

Having options to choose from is critical at these pivotal moments. So Jane advises women, at all career stages, to network, but recognize that it takes time to do, and it requires time to reap results: “You can’t just retire and say, ‘I want to join a board now’. You need to establish those relationships early, and build your credibility, perhaps with a professional association or non-profit group.”

Although she understands that some women feel negatively about networking, Jane sees the win-win aspects: “I see networking as a two-way street. It has served me very well, and I get a lot of energy from it. At the very least, if you like chatting with people, you’re going to learn something from it. I always felt it was an important part of my day – that everyone can do – but most people don’t.”

Jane points out that networking requires a commitment, especially in today’s work environment where it’s harder to meet in person for lunch or coffee: In a hybrid world, you have to try harder because you’re not going to build those deeper connections in a virtual meeting.” 

She also cautions that balancing all parts of your life, including networking, is important: “Keep in mind that you have different aspects of your life, and you have to keep each in check. In my case, I regret not always managing my fitness and wellness, even though I was doing a good job with work, family and friends. Don’t over-index on work, or something else really does suffer.”

Jane’s candour shows that there’s no magic formula, but there definitely are many approaches for women who are uncertain about their return to work or deciding upon their best move. Building your network makes it easier, to see your options, choose your next step, and realize you’re not alone.

More about Jane Kinney: With over 30 years of experience in the financial services sector, Jane is a Corporate Director and a member of the Board at Intact Insurance Financial Corporation, in addition to being Vice Chair of the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics. Until 2019, she was Vice Chair of a big four consulting firm in Canada and former member of its leadership team. She occupied various positions at the big four consulting firm, including Canadian Managing Partner, Quality & Risk and Global Chief Risk Officer. A substantial portion of her practice has focused on the evolving areas of risk governance and risk appetite, building upon her pervious roles. Jane has a mathematics degree from the University of Waterloo and is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario.

The views and opinions of external contributors expressed herein are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of KPMG International Limited or any KPMG member firm.


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