Libby Low had planned to return to work soon after having her first baby, but after the child was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition she ended up staying out of the workforce for five years.
When she started looking for a job in January at the age of 40, friends told her the best she could hope for was a job in administration, despite her many years of experience in management.
“I had low expectations,” she said. “It is absolutely intimidating. When I started thinking about what am I going to do, I didn’t know where to start.
“My head was in a different place for five years and I had no professional confidence.”
While looking for jobs, Ms Low stumbled on a new recruitment program that was targeting people who had been out of work for two years or more.
Her application for the job was successful and she started work four days a week as a consulting manager for Deloitte in July.
“It’s been great. It was a lot about restoring your confidence,” Ms Low said.
Ms Low will find out in mid-November whether she will get a permanent role with Deloitte after completing a 20-week program.
Deloitte Australia said it introduced the new return to work program in response to the under-representation of women in senior ranks.
A spokesman said it was open to men and women, but aimed to help women who have taken a break transition back into the workplace.
“The program is part of our wider strategy to improve diversity at all levels of the business and forms part of our commitment to being an inclusive employer,” he said.
While Deloitte said it was working towards increasing diversity, a new report released by the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women found that many organisations have “a mono culture valuing sameness, not difference” and marginalised women because of their caring roles.
The Unique Leadership of Minority Women Report found that being a woman from a minority group, which included older women, was a major barrier to entering senior leadership positions.
“A resounding theme was that women from minority groups have diverse experiences because of their unique contexts, experiences of diversity and discrimination which shaped a unique style of leadership that was more people focused, resilient, collaborative, interpersonal, empathetic, flexible, creative, lateral and innovative in their approaches to leadership, problem solving and developing business solutions,” the report said.
The director of the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women, Dr Diann Rodgers-Healey, who authored the national study of women mostly aged between 36 to 55, said not being caucasian, able-bodied, heterosexual, attending private schools and prestigious universities created significant disadvantages.
“With minorities working hard to achieve and prove themselves amongst those who are mostly Anglo-Saxon, despite doing the work, it was highlighted that they are not valued and remunerated as they should be, but relegated to be the “back staff worker”.
The report said women’s maturity, life experience and professional experience were valued in the community sector, “but in the corporate sector, prejudice to age, lack of recognition for their knowledge and experience have excluded older women from opportunities. Here they have to prove themselves by working harder and being more assertive”.
Aloma Fennell, national president of Older Women’s Network said she was concerned that older women were now being recognised as a “minority group” despite offering a lot of value in terms of ability and experience.
“Irrespective of what we have achieved or contributed, we are [a] very age-focused society,” she said.
“Women, particularly over the age of 55, are thought of as too old and undervalued. By the age of 60, you are completely invisible.
“But one in 60 people today are in the over-60 bracket and people will need to work until the pension age of 70. What are they going to do for 15 years?”.