Jo Aitken pic

Jo Aitken, Corporate Banking Relationship Director at Barclays (3 year break)

Before my career break, I ran a sports organisation which developed ambitious legacy initiatives in east London connected to the 2012 Olympics. Prior to that, I worked in client relationships at Sport England. In 2015, I took a year out to have a baby – which turned into three.

During my break I raised my young son, project managed a house renovation and coached friends on their own careers. I also maintained a non-executive role as an independent trustee to the London Youth Games Foundation to keep my experiences fresh and my contacts relevant.

When the time came to consider returning to work I realised that my perspective on life had shifted, so I identified the aspects of my previous jobs that I had relished – strategy, carving out business development opportunities, relationship building and management – and began to think about how I could transfer those skills to another sector.

Trying to pinpoint which direction to head in was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. Then a friend who worked at Barclays sent me an email about its Encore! Programme which is one of the bank’s flagship diversity and citizenship programmes. It’s aimed at professionals wishing to return to a fulfilling role in the workplace after a career break and is designed to help returnees move forward with confidence.

I’d looked at various other returnship programmes in the financial sector but most required previous financial services experience. This programme actually valued diversity of experience and perspective over knowledge of the banking sector, which impressed me. I applied for a London-based relationship role with Barclays Corporate and was delighted to be accepted onto the programme. When you take a career break to have a child you lose confidence about certain things, so I was very excited to be part of this.

My fellow participants on the programme were a mix of ages and genders and there was a wide range of confidence levels, but the mentorship offered by the scheme’s team of senior managers ensured every individual was nurtured and supported. My manager appreciated the fact that I’d run an organisation in contrast to rising through the banking graduate training scheme. She could see that I’d been in relationship roles before and had dealt with high level executives on a regular basis.

I successfully completed the programme and am now seven months into my new job as a Corporate Banking Relationship Director in Technology, Media and Telecoms – and loving it. My team and I work with a diverse range of clients – from film production companies to tech start-ups – supporting them in their banking and finance needs and becoming a trusted ally. I’m in my element meeting new people on a daily basis and getting to grips with how they function as individuals, how their businesses work and what their strategies are.

The really lovely thing about a relationship role is that every day poses a new challenge, depending of what your client throws at you. In my last role, I was expected to know how to do everything already, so the thrill of learning something new was much less frequent. Because this role is entirely new to me, there are lots of thrilling moments. It’s great to feel independent again.