Science technician and former embryologist, Tatia Pasadaki, had been unemployed for five years when she signed up to the Steps Ahead Parent Returner programme in January 2020, and was matched with Owen as her mentor.

She had taken time out of her career to look after her children, and was keen to get back into work but lacking confidence about the process.

'I was working full-time and I was a career freak. And then five years away from that, it felt like my brain had melted. I had no idea how to switch from being a full-time mum. Thanks to the mentoring I felt seen again,' she says.

After achieving her Masters in embryology in London, she had worked for six years in an IVF clinic in Greece before moving to a clinic in Germany. It was while here she became pregnant and, due to complications, had to spend the whole of her pregnancy on bedrest. Her contract was not renewed.

Feeling ready to seek a new role when her daughter was 18 months old, she had a happy surprise – she was pregnant again. After another period of bedrest, Tatia’s second daughter was born. But when she began to look for a new role in embryology, she started encountering barriers. Firstly, it was proving difficult to find a role in Germany. Secondly, embryology is a full-on role with regular weekend working – not great for someone with two young children.

'It’s a specialised job and you need to be in a city where there are IVF clinics. I was happy after the high-risk pregnancy that I was spending so much time with my daughter, but at the same time I was freaked out because I felt useless in a way,' she says. 'I didn’t feel good not earning money, especially after being independent for so long.'

'I know motherhood is magical but you should be able to combine it with work. My confidence hit rock bottom at some point, because I didn't feel like I was seen. People don't think that being on maternity leave or being a full-time mum is a job.'

In December 2019, Tatia and her husband moved to Yorkshire and she started the process of looking for a job. While her biologist husband found work as a lecturer at a university, Tatia was struggling to find the right role. She contacted clinics to introduce herself but didn’t receive much of a response. She then applied for some managerial roles but was unsuccessful as she didn’t have a managerial background.

'On top of everything else, I was new to the UK. Moving was overwhelming. So I freaked out. How could I find a job? And how would I be able to combine it with my children being in a nursery?'

Mentoring: short but sweet

While searching Google, Tatia discovered some information on returners that led her to finding the CIPD Parent Returner programme through an advertisement on Facebook.

'I immediately thought the description fitted me,' she says. 'It was for people who had stopped their career for maternity or medical reasons and I had both.' In January 2020, Tatia applied for the programme and was matched with Owen, who lived close by. They connected on LinkedIn and she sent him her CV to review. One of the key areas Owen could immediately address was helping Tatia to understand how the job market worked in the UK.

'I didn't know the steps here. For example, it's pretty easy to change jobs in the UK, which it isn’t in Germany and Greece. So Owen helped me to get to know the situation in the UK much better, helping me in areas such as how to do my CV, how to appear in an interview and what they need to know in the interview,' she explains.

She arranged to meet Owen face-to-face in a coffee shop in February 2020, with her daughter in tow as she had nowhere to leave her. It was fortuitous, because later that week Tatia was due to attend an interview for a science technician role at a Roman Catholic School in Yorkshire.

Owen helped her to prepare for the interview. Tatia had been volunteering online for a women’s group which helps women with issues like hers, but hadn’t thought to put this on her CV. When it came up during their discussion Owen advised her to give it prominence on her CV. Similarly, he advised her to mention the fact she is a mother in the interview and demonstrate how it had helped her develop skills such as multitasking.

According to Tatia, this advice was extremely helpful. Indeed, it must have been, as she attended the interview two days later and was offered the job the same day.

Starting a new job during lockdown

Immediately after getting her new role, the UK went into lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, her first day at work was the first day of the lockdown and it was six months before Tatia went into the school for the first time.

But rather than the situation causing more angst, Tatia says it helped her to ease into the new role.

'It helped me settle back into going back to work because I was doing some stuff online but I was also staying with my kids,' she says.

Tatia describes her new role as 'the dream job' as it is both part-time and term-time hours. But with her husband working full-time, she does need to pay for a childminder for her youngest daughter, and this takes 80% of her salary. This, she says, is a particular barrier for parent returners in the UK.

'In Greece, you usually have the grandparents near you so they help with the childcare. In Germany it's really cheap to get childcare. In the UK it's difficult because until they're three it's way too expensive. So I think that's a big issue for returning to work,' she explains.

And while her role could be seen as a step sideways, if not backwards, from her previous career, this was a personal choice, she says. In fact, she recommends this approach.

'Going back step by step really helps. So even if someone is thinking about a new job which doesn’t give you so much money at the end of the day because of childcare, it is worth it because it helps you gain confidence.'

Just do it

So, did Tatia feel she gained much value from what must be one of the shortest mentoring relationships ever?

'Definitely,' she says adamantly. 'I was a mess. He really calmed me down. The first time I felt really good about myself was connecting with Owen. He was excited about my CV because I had a good career, but the CV was five years old. The fact that he said I'm not useless was important. So I started realising I'm not done. I can go back. Through just a few emails and one session he helped me to feel that I can do this. That one session helped tremendously.'

Taking that first step is a big barrier to overcome, she adds. When you’re at home, in your pyjamas, lacking confidence and with two young children, it’s easy to think you are on your own.

'To be honest, even going to the session with Owen was a big step because it was the first professional thing I had done for some years. When you’re at home and it’s difficult to get out you get into a routine and then you’re afraid to apply for a job and then you don’t know what to expect. On the day we were meeting I thought, I’m going for a walk with my daughter and anything else is a plus. I was excited and nervous.'

Tatia says she would recommend the CIPD Parent Returner mentoring programme to other parents planning to return to work after a break. She found the application process easy and, after a short call with the programme facilitators, it didn’t take long to be matched with her mentor. She notes how people from the programme have kept in touch along the way.

'The first thing that made me feel better about things was finding this programme. It helps you realise you are not alone. And then step-by-step you gain more confidence. If you are thinking about doing it, you should at least try. You can only get something positive from it.'

And her overall experience of mentoring? Tatia sums it up in just four powerful words, 'I felt seen again.'