Research published this week by PwC shows that there are almost half a million professionally qualified women that are presently not engaged in the workforce. These women are taking a career break for various reasons, predominantly to care for their children or elderly relatives. They are sometimes referred to as the “Lost Women”.
PwC estimate that the UK economy would benefit by £1.7bn if these women re-entered the workforce and worked in roles that optimised their qualifications and experience. Employers are starting to switch on to the fact that the career returners market is a valuable talent pool.
However, this is not a simple supply and demand equation. Sally Dhillon (from Midlands-based Career-Mums helps career breakers return to work and supports employers to recruit them) highlights the current state of the returners market :
- Women tend to settle for roles below their qualifications and experience level so that they can get some flexibility to assist with their continuing carer responsibilities
- A significant proportion of part-time career returners say they would be happy to work more hours if there was more flexibility at other times (e.g. during school holidays)
- Women tend to earn significantly less than their male counterparts on returning to work after a career break
- Women report feeling rusty and lacking in confidence after a break and therefore are less likely to apply for jobs at their previous experience level; employers are more likely to recruit less experienced and less qualified staff rather than someone who has had a career break of more than 6 months.
So rather than continue to under-employ these valuable women, here are some things that Sally Dhillon says employers can do to make the most of employing career returners:
- Supported hires – via structured returnship programmes or ad hoc recruitment – use a career returners expert to facilitate the process of getting a rusty hire up to speed in their new role – this will assist returners to work at their previous level in a relatively short period of time – their skills, capabilities and experience are still there; they need support with confidence, preparedness and perhaps updating their IT skills and industry knowledge.
- Be aware of your recruitment bias – are you discounting potential hires over a certain age, with a gap on their cv, with additional caring responsibilities or applicants that want to work on a flexible basis?
- Talk about flexible working arrangements – what one employee wants and needs is quite different to another person – have a range of options available for all your employees so that everyone can get more involved in caring responsibilities. Focus on results rather than ‘presenteeism’ where possible.
- Most career breakers do want to return to work – their motivation may vary from financial to wanting to feel valued and purposeful. With the impending extension to working life due to the lack of retirement funding, delayed parenthood and more variable career patterns, career breaks should be seen more as the norm rather than something that holds people back.
- Most professional women continue to develop their skills – stay actively involved in their profession or local community, perhaps through volunteering, freelancing or consultancy during a career break – they are a rich and developing group of talent.
The business benefits of having healthy gender diversity are widely accepted now. Smart employers are turning to the amazing pool of lost women to attract them back into the workplace to fill their resourcing gaps and talent pipelines.
By Sally Dhillon – Partner, Career-Mums
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