I paused my career as a network engineer in order to prioritize my family and relocate to a different country. Planning to be out of the workforce for only a few years, I continued my professional development so I could return to the corporate world when I was ready. When that time came 10 years later, I wasn’t prepared for the obstacles I would encounter. Being away from the workforce for a decade seemed like an impossible hurdle to overcome.

The career gap. Recruiters often overlook candidates like me with interruptions in our work histories. This can make re-entering the workforce especially difficult despite the immense value, skill and talent that we offer.

I discovered that there are many myths associated with professionals who have stepped away from their careers. Hirers assume our skills are diminished or that we are not dedicated workers. Both of these views are far from the truth.

The return. Fiercely determined to restart my career, I worked hard to prepare for Cisco certifications. I earned my Cisco Certified Network Associate, Cisco Certified Network Professional and the CCNP Enterprise Core certifications and completed the Cisco Customer Success training modules. Equipped with up-to-date technical skills and additional in-demand qualifications, I believed I would find the perfect position. Still, it was an uphill climb.

Then I discovered Akraya’s Women Back to Work program, and it changed my life. I found WBW at a point when I really needed a confidence boost to continue my job search and prepare for interviews. The program elevated my sense of self-worth, and its success stories about women like me returning to work after a break inspired me.

Meanwhile, the WBW career conference enabled me to network with recruiting teams from various organizations — an opportunity I would not have had and attention I would not have received otherwise. The WBW team also provided the mentoring and one-on-one coaching that I needed to develop the perfect mindset to embrace my career break. The weekly WBW Power Hour sessions enabled me to contextualize my journey and articulate my own narrative. I gained the confidence and perspective to transform my career gap from a weakness into an asset.

Keys to success. Today, I am proud and humbled to share that we did it: I have joined Cisco Meraki as a network support engineer via Cisco’s Return-to-Work program. I say “we” did it because I was not alone in this journey. It really does take a village to get women like me back to work. Credit for my success story goes to all of the people who propelled my journey forward with their commitment, support and empathy — enabling me to focus on the unique value that I could provide an employer.

A chance. As grateful as I am for the WBW program, I wish it was not necessary. I urge all leaders, hiring managers and recruiters not to overlook talented people who have been out of the workforce. I proved that a gap on a résumé is only an interruption in the timeline, not in the skills nor the work ethic. The next time you meet with applicants restarting their careers or read their résumés, please be open-minded and empathetic. Look for reasons to hire and give them a chance.

In a global world, it’s no longer a secret that a diverse workforce is a competitive advantage. Multiple studies have shown that diversity results in more creative solutions to problems, increased sales, higher revenue, an improved ability to attract and retain talent, and a stronger brand image. A diverse workforce is a must if you want to compete, and hiring more women who have taken a career break is a proven way to enhance employee diversity.

Meanwhile, for those who are determined to re-enter the workforce: If you believe in yourself and keep learning and growing, you will be unstoppable. Trust the process and have patience. If I can do it after a 10-year career break, you can as well!