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Mature-age mothers get a helping hand to get back to work after having a family

Woman stands smiling putting clothing into bags.
Program mentor Jennifer Swaine says the response from women wanting to help is overwhelming.

ABC Sunshine Coast: Kylie Bartholomew

When a woman attempts to move back into a professional workplace after having a family, it can be daunting.

What were once desired skills might be outdated while prospective colleagues are younger, more experienced and use words bigger than two syllables.

But in a Queensland first, a regional business community is banding together to retrain, upskill and makeover mature-age women.

The Inspiring Women to Work program, an initiative of the Maroochydore Chamber of Commerce, involves mentoring and upskilling women in technology, social media, health and wellbeing, image and deportment.

Chamber president Kris McCue said the group identified that mature age, professional women with tertiary qualifications were struggling to find work on the Sunshine Coast.

"The value of people who have that wealth of knowledge and experience is really understated.

"People with those skills and abilities have so much to offer a business."

A man sits at a laptop smiling.
Maroochydore Chamber of Commerce president Kris McCue says the program addresses a need for professional, mature aged women.

ABC Sunshine Coast: Kylie Bartholomew

He said the program, which has received $300,000 state government funding, was targeted at women as young as 35.

"To those 35-year-olds out there we're not saying you're old or mature aged, but our experience shows that's the demographic where people might've had four or five years out of the workforce in their late 20s to have kids and they're coming back in at 35 and 36 and thinking 'geez are my skills up to date?"

But he expected that those younger mums would actually be the minority in the eight-week program.

"The major component would actually be the mature aged women whose kid have left home, around 45 or 50, have moved from another location and had a professional job in the past but coming to the Sunshine Coast they lack networks."

While it is being rolled out on the Sunshine Coast, Mr McCue said the initiative's framework could be applied at any location.

Social, emotional and practical support

A component of the program will be to utilise local businesswomen, from a variety of backgrounds, in a mentor role.

One of those is businesswoman and chamber vice-president, Jennifer Swaine.

A self-confessed mature age woman and mum, Ms Swaine said the program was inspirational.

"To let them know that there's other women that have their back that go 'you've got this sister'."

She said women often undervalued their skills while at home with children.

White garbage bags with writing on them including 'girl's night out', 'evening wear', 'casual', 'shoes.
Jennifer Swaine says she has been overwhelmed with donations of business attire.

ABC Sunshine Coast: Kylie Bartholomew

"There was a woman when we were talking about skill set who said 'I've been at home with children for the past 14 years, what do I have to offer?'

"It actually makes me very emotional because the array of skills this woman had. She was blown away because she hadn't looked at it from that perspective.

Ms Swaine said the support for the program was evident in the overwhelming response to a callout on social media for women to donate unwanted business attire for participants.

"So that women going back into the workforce who may not have a suit because they've been at home with children and they're dressed more casually, well I was swamped with private messages and phone calls from very, very senior women in Queensland.

"First impressions count and it doesn't have to be expensive clothing but if you look neat and professional every single day and start off the way you mean to go on, is very, very important."

Put your best (confident) foot forward

Woman sits smiling in front of a table full of clothes and shoes.
Sunshine Coast businesswoman Phillipa Harcourt says clothing and image helps a woman's confidence in interviews.

ABC Sunshine Coast: Kylie Bartholomew

Businesswoman Phillipa Harcourt jumped at the chance to donate some of her wardrobe and help women feel more confident.

The employer said a first impression was made in as little as 30 seconds and could make or break the interview process.

"Their posture, the way they carry themselves, eye contact, what they're doing with their hands, so if they're feeling better about themselves they're going to be more likely to stand tall, smile, look you in the eye.

Ms Harcourt said clothing influenced the way a woman feels about herself and a lack of confidence was enough to deter a prospective employer, regardless of what was in a resume.

"The actual step of going to that job interview and walking into that office can be quite intimidating so if you've got a few tools in your closet that you can put your war paint makeup on and some nice shoes and you can walk in and go 'yep I can do this'."

Close up of two pairs of ballet flat shoes.
Women are donating clothes, shoes, handbags and belts to other women who have been out of the workforce.

ABC Sunshine Coast: Kylie Bartholomew