Case study

Maria Anker

Associate, The Generation Foundation
“After a 14-year career break, this role brings together all my expertise and interests in one place and I could not be happier.”

After a 14-year career break, this role brings together all my expertise and interests in one place and I could not be happier. I am able to work with autonomy, in a supportive and stimulating environment.

In 2021, The Return Hub placed Maria Elena into her new role with The Generation Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Generation Investment Management, after a 14-year career break. Having studied Economics and International Development, Maria Elena describes her career path as “non-traditional”. She enjoyed a successful early career in fixed income research on Wall Street and then in microfinance, first, for a microfinance bank in Ecuador and then as the Financial Officer of Pro Mujer, a non-profit microfinance network headquartered in New York. She left Pro Mujer and shifted into a consultant role to have more control over her time and travel less for her upcoming family. She worked as a consultant with Developing World Markets (DWM), an impact investor, until she relocated to London. She then took a 7-year career break to have and care for 3 children. In 2014, she co-founded a luxury preserved flower business servicing the high-end hospitality sector.  The small business was almost immediately profitable yet grew slowly as she was working only part-time. In 2019, Maria Elena bought out her partner, began working full-time on the business, and doubled its size.  When Covid struck and many of her clients closed she had time to reflect and decided that she no longer wanted to focus on her business but wanted to return to the world of impact investing. Given her long absence from the world of finance, she was not sure if she would be considered for any management positions but was open to restarting her career from even an entry-level position. She felt confident that her skills and experience had only been enhanced by running her own business, yet she knew her large career gap changed employers’ perceptions of her abilities.  She began applying for multiple entry to mid-level positions and receiving no feedback, she began to feel discouraged.   On hearing of The Return Hub through a friend, in November 2020 she registered with them. At the same time, she reached out to a previous employer who she had not spoken to in 13 years. He gave her some great advice about re-entering the workforce, and she was also subsequently offered some project work for the firm. This really boosted her confidence as well as added some recent relevant work experience to her CV. Only a few weeks after beginning this project work, in January 2021, Linda from the Return Hub approached her with the exciting role at the Generation Foundation which matched her aspirations. She began the interview process and a few months later she was delighted to receive an offer and joined them in June upon completing her consulting assignment. “My CV was not being considered even for roles far beneath my experience, but the application I sent through the Return Hub had an immediate response.  Linda from the Return Hub was amazing and supported me through the interview process”. Since joining Generation, she says she has “never felt more welcome”. She says that she feels lucky to have joined an organization that aligns so perfectly with her interests and one that has such a positive, encouraging work environment. “I’m surrounded by admirable people, and I have felt respected from day one”.   Maria’s top tips for Returners with longer breaks: 

  1. Don’t assume your skills have degenerated since you have been out of the traditional workplace. They haven’t. These skills will soon be re-awakened, and it really will not take long to get up to speed on recent developments, current markets, technology etc once you are back in the workplace.  It takes much less time than one thinks and likely only a few weeks.
  2. Reconnect with people that you worked with in the past whom you had a good relationship with, even if it has been a long time. Ask for their advice, they may be able to connect you with other people, suggest training courses or as in Maria Elena’s case they might have some projects you could work on in the short term.