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News > Rugbeian News > A conversation with Letty Gordon-Furse (St 05-07) – The Spring Back Guide

A conversation with Letty Gordon-Furse (St 05-07) – The Spring Back Guide

Letty! Please introduce yourself and give us an overview of your career and accomplishments since leaving Rugby School? Can you take us back to the beginning of your career journey?

Hello! Gosh where to start. When I left Rugby, I took a gap year. Amongst waitressing and doing the stereotypical travelling in between, I participated in the Global Young Leaders’ Summit in China - a Rugby-inspired choice, that was life changing. It was a follow on from a previous Summit I’d done in Washington in the Summer of the LXX. It was 2008, and right before Beijing hosted the Olympics. China was preparing to open itself up to the world. They flew us all over China, which honestly felt like Mars at that time - it was so incredibly different to anywhere I’d been before. Think skyscrapers right next to people ploughing fields using donkey-drawn ploughs! We were the first non-political foreigners to be allowed in the foreign ministry in over 100 years, and I met people from all over the world. It was so formative for me - and gave me a very keen interest in geopolitics and, cheesy though it sounds, wanting to make an impact in my career. As part of my undergraduate degree I spent a year in Strasbourg, where I took on an internship with the European parliament. It made me realise that perhaps Business, as opposed to politics, was a better way to make an impact. Make of that what you will! I did a Masters in International Business at Manchester, which was one of the best decisions I ever made. Having been underwhelmed by my undergraduate degree I felt truly at home. Off the back of that, I applied to be Management Consultant at EY (Ernst & Young), and off to London I went. I specialised in Government / Public Sector, working at the Ministry of  Defence, Network Rail, and multiple London Councils. I specialised in People & Organisational Change. I then worked in-house for the UK’s largest social enterprise, before going to do Global Transformation at Save the Children international. I didn’t last long there before striking out on my own, with my own Coaching Company.


What inspired you to start the Spring Back Guide? How did you get started?

How I got started… well like most businesses: a great deal of trial and error. My first Coaching Company was doing well, but if I am honest with myself I wasn’t different enough from other offerings. I also was pregnant, so had the imminent interruption of childbirth ahead. I worked til crunch time, and unfortunately I had my first baby who was very sick, and so I went back to work very early (2 mornings a week when he was 4 months old). Work made me feel like me, it made me feel whole, it kept my brain busy. It was then that I realised how much stepping away work - from what we all do for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week - must have on both the confidence and mental health of mothers. Not to mention the enormous financial impact for businesses of losing great female talent, and the societal impact of having very few women in leadership positions. It got to the point where I felt actively angry about the status quo - what is the point in educating our girls at all, if we accept the 85% of them will quit their role within 3 years of having a child - which for me is usually the cue to do something about it. I started specialising my coaching towards maternity leavers, and when the world fell off a cliff in 2020 I started a podcast all about this phenomenon. The podcast kept me sane in a world with no childcare, but it wasn’t a money maker. I realised coaching was prohibitively expensive for mothers and companies, and wasn’t scalable for me. So, I spent a year or so turning it digital. The Spring Back Guide was born.


Tell us a bit more about the Spring Back Guide’s role in helping mothers in their transition back to the workplace.

The Spring Back Guide is based on 5 years worth of notes from maternity leavers - where the same problems come up over and over again. These are that women stop putting themselves first, that they lose confidence, that they are not taking the initiative to rebalance things with their partners, and that the pause in the career has got them wondering what they’re doing with their lives…! It’s a hybrid product, so I use digital video but also 1:1 coaching to provide holistic support for women returners - all the way from pre-, during and post maternity leave.


In your experience, how can businesses in various industries better support women during their transition back to work? How do you help them in doing this?

Haha, buying the product of course! No in all seriousness, they can support better by recognising the significance and importance of the concept I am driving - which is all about formalising a ‘Returnity’ period. We have mostly understood that having great Maternity is a game changer (equal parental leave being second to this) - but actually, it is a poorly-managed Returnity that generates the most problems, and ultimately leads to attrition. A company’s investment into Maternity is utterly wasted if you expect that employee to return to your company with a couple of KIT days and one settling-in week. It doesn’t work like that! …Ask any parent. Making women feel valued and acknowledged, providing them with the tools to go back to work happy, and recognise the enormous skills that motherhood will bring to your business (time management + coping under stress, anyone?) will see your retention rates skyrocket.


What positive changes have you observed in the workplace since the start of your career, and what challenges still need to be addressed?

I was privileged at Rugby to never feel sidelined because of my gender. I felt valued and listened to. I don’t think that was the same when I started work. I entered a male dominated workforce, with few senior women, where I was told on Day 1 to ‘flirt’ with the client when giving presentations, and that my glasses made me look like an adult entertainer. At the time, I was in front of a large group of senior staff when receiving that ‘feedback’ and I felt demeaned, and as if I didn’t deserve to be there. I hope that with the advent of #MeToo that these sorts of comments wouldn’t go down well today. In terms of challenges yet to be addressed, I’d say it’s the recognition that we cannot continue our economy or the human race without women child bearing. We cannot outsource this. If we want a more equitable society, if we want to hit those D&I targets… we have to support women through the process of becoming a mother. And we have to support them re-entering the workforce at the level their qualifications warrant.


What advice would you give to young women aspiring to succeed? Are there specific skills or mindsets you believe are crucial for success?

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Women are sometimes encouraged ‘not to make a fuss’ by asking. Oh my goodness - ASK. The worst someone can actually say is no. But sometimes ‘no’ isn’t necessarily a no! Persisting, if you believe in something, is worthwhile. I’ve learned to be the dog with a bone, when I am passionate about something. Even if people think you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Life isn’t the dress rehearsal, this is the real thing, so if you’ve “always wanted to do xyz” - then start putting the steps today in place to do it. No one will make it happen except you.

Mindset wise, I used to have a fixed mindset. I came from an academic background, and of course being at Rugby I was surrounded by very brilliant people. I felt that if I wasn’t ‘naturally’ good at something then I’d ‘never’ be good at it. I have learned (the hard way) that mostly people who are brilliant at something are because they have practised the hardest and the longest. Don’t be afraid to ‘look bad’. Just do it.


International Women's Day is a time to celebrate women's achievements. Can you highlight a success story from your business where you witnessed the positive impact of supporting women, not just in their professional lives, but also in their personal growth and well-being?

It is what I see every day through the Spring Back Guide -  it is why I do what I do. You have to support the woman personally, to be able to support them professionally. When I receive messages from people who have found my social media, or users through the corporates I work with, or podcast listeners, it gives me so, so much satisfaction. I recorded an episode with Elizabeth Christmas-Hutton MBE, CEO of the charity Kicks Count, a few years ago. A listener wrote me a 3 page long message explaining that the episode, and the awareness I raised via the episode and sharing my own experience, saved her child’s life. That was probably the highlight of this whole experience so far!


You have a young family yourself. How do you manage a successful career with your personal life, and what do you do for your own well-being?

Parenting is a team effort - whether it is your partner or your ‘village’, and my Partner is how I manage! He is absolutely unflappable, and my biggest cheerleader, and my ideas fountain. He is also an entrepreneur - so whilst being a tad frenetic at times, it also gives us huge flexibility. We spreadsheet manage drop offs, pick ups, mornings and nights, and review it when one of us is particularly busy / melting. Life is so hectic that it gives us structure and helps us cope. When he is away for a weekend, we plan in when I am going to be away. We have so-called Strategy Meetings with each other most mornings, next to a whiteboard with a coffee. We are a true team. For my own well being, I go to gymnastics which I absolutely love, and I keep up with friends. Essential.


As a Rugbeian, can you share how your experiences at the school influenced your journey? Did you have any particular role models or sources of inspiration (teachers/ peers/ external figures) during your time at Rugby? Are there any particularly memorable moments or experiences that you’d like to share?

Rugby was life-changing. I remember wishing I could do one more year there. I am eternally grateful to the School, and to Mr Derham who was the Headmaster. I was, ahem, a naughty child at my two previous schools (sorry) and my parents were truly bracing themselves for my first House Report from Mrs Phelps - Stanley Housemistress. They couldn’t believe that I was finally ‘reformed’! I was part of the Arnold Singers and so singing 7 or 8 times per week, part of multiple societies (huge shout out to Dr Smith and his absolutely brilliant selection of speakers, and his infamous guitar) and generally loving the enormous social side of it. I had never enjoyed school before and it was a huge novelty. I didn’t really have time to misbehave because I was so incredibly busy. In terms of Teachers (he probably doesn’t even remember me!) but Dr. Ingleston-Orme was a true legend. He was incredibly kind and supportive when I was going through a tricky time personally - also, what stuck with me is that he was unashamedly proud of his inner geek. It made me confident to do the same. He was a truly incredible teacher. Despite my 0.2 mark off an A grade (still bitter!), pushing myself to do Biology, and somehow cling on to the top set so that I could keep ‘Dingle’ as a teacher, is something I am proud of. Mr Dunster-Sigtermans for his constant ‘I can’t believe it’s not Rutter’ musical selections, the heaven that was the Arnold Singers, and he and Mrs D-S’s legendary mulled wine parties for after the Memorial Chapel Christmas concerts showed me how much fun school could truly be. Mrs Phelps I am grateful to for taking a punt on me, despite the probably hideous reports she’d received, and being so relentlessly positive, supportive and hilarious about her attitude to discipline (aka, you can be naughty, but when you take the biscuit then we will intervene). I think receiving the chapel seating layout was a particularly brilliant / funny memory of Rugby, so that you could plan which boys houses you would be opposite… such is teenage girl life.


The Spring Back Guide is a testament to your dedication to supporting working mothers. How do you envision the future of your business contributing to the ongoing dialogue on women's rights, gender equality, and workplace inclusion?

I’ll keep going as long as I am being paid for it, and until society sees changes. I am doing a lot more in-person events, in part because I think we have to be ok with uncomfortable conversations, which I think creates a lot of unspoken resentment and polarisation when it comes to Inclusion/Diversity. Actually having honest dialogue about ‘what is the point of paying for mat leave’, or ‘why should we hire the 20-something if they’re just going to leave and have a baby’ are attitudes that are alive and well, and deserve some challenge. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. But we need to keep being open and keep allowing for debate to make any progress and to educate and inform in a way that works for everyone. I would like ‘Returnity’ to be a concept as ubiquitous as Maternity as a key to female retention and closing the Gender Pay Gap. I would like both men and women to benefit from it and understand the importance of women staying in the workforce, if that is their choice. That would be a brilliant legacy for the Guide.


A conversation between Tash Grove (D  04-08) from the Rugbeian Community and Letty Gordon-Furse (St 05-07) in anticipation of International Women's Day 2024.

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