There can be many reasons women may have a career break, the most common reasons being childcare and maternity leave (38%). Unfortunately, this can have a negative impact on their career progression and the gender pay gap. In fact, a study by UK-based Institute for Fiscal Studies found that on average, women in paid work earn approximately 18% less than men, with the gap only increasing when they become mothers. When they reach the 12th year after their first child, this gap rises to 33%. This could then put mothers off coming back to work at all, which is why it is important for employers to make it easier for women to return to work after a career break. Not only does returning to work benefit the employee but there are also many benefits for the company too. For example, they don’t have to train someone from scratch.
However, childcare is not only the reason for women leaving their jobs. Other reasons can include but aren’t limited to, looking after someone with an illness, household responsibilities, further education, and travelling. None of these reasons mean they were not skilful in their jobs or lacked competency, therefore it would be beneficial for companies to help them get back to where they were before they took their break as they may also be able to share some of their knowledge and insights. In addition, some of the reasons such as further education and travel could even mean they have more experience than they left with.
No matter the reason for a career break, it can feel daunting to come back to work, either due to a lack of confidence, having outdated skills or not knowing how they can get back into the workplace. This is where employers can help.
There are many ways organisations can help returners come back to work. One effective way is to have returnship programmes that focus on helping those returning to work after an extended career break build back their technology skills and boost their confidence through coaching and mentoring. It means that people can get back into work, without having to start at an entry-level and they can last anywhere between a few weeks and a few months. Applying for one of these programmes, instead of a permanent job allows both the employer and employee the time to make sure it is a good fit. This ultimately will save the employer time and money. During this time the employer will provide them with extra training and mentorship to help get them caught up with anything that might have changed in the time they weren’t in work and help to brush up on the skills they already have. This is particularly important in the tech industry as it is very fast-paced with technology growing by 2x every 18 months in processing capacity. This also helps to bridge the gender skills gap that is created when women go on any type of extended leave. It can feel as though you’ll never be able to catch up on your own, whereas with returnships it is entirely possible.
Here are some companies that currently offer returnship programmes:
Even if the company doesn’t have an official returnship programme, making it clear that they will provide training and/or mentoring on any job adverts will also encourage women to get back into their tech career. Not only does this help build confidence, but having mentors also creates a support system because the mentor will put aside dedicated time to just help the returner one-on-one, building a rapport between the two. This then allows the returner to feel they can ask questions or ask for advice if they are unsure of anything and they can learn at their own pace, rather than being in a training room with lots of people. It can also help ensure there is regular, open communication between the employee and the company, so they are aware of any further assistance they may need or help ease any concerns they may have. Returners also might have insights they can offer, building a stronger bond with the company’s employees. The mentor can also introduce them to a wider network of people within the company, even further strengthening the sense of belonging and support. On the other hand, if they feel they don’t have anyone to speak to, it will make it more likely they will decide to not continue to pursue returning to work.
Mentors are particularly important for women in tech as it is generally a male-dominated environment (only approximately 27% of tech roles are held by women) with a recent survey by Women in Tech, showing a staggering 76% of the respondents asked said that they have experienced gender bias or discrimination in the workplace at least once. Therefore, feeling a sense of community and support is vital. In particular, it has been shown that same-gender role models are particularly valuable for women.
You can read more about women in STEM role models here.
Another way companies can help create a sense of community and support is by having employee support networks. These are voluntary groups of people within the company with similar beliefs, backgrounds in interests, providing a safe and supportive environment. For example, having women’s networks gives women a secure space to discuss like-minded topics, such as childcare, work-life balance and any concerns they may have with leaving responsibilities behind when working. Another benefit of these groups is they can help give employees the confidence to suggest changes that can be made in the company, for example, more training or returnship programmes, which can help current and future employees. Despite its name, it doesn’t mean all members need to be women. It is also important to have male allies, which means they will use their personal privilege (e.g. being male in a male-dominated tech industry) to speak up on their female colleagues’ behalf and help promote change.
Another way that employers can help female returners come back to work is by offering company benefits, such as flexible working, remote working and above average annual leave allowance. These would be particularly beneficial for the women that have taken a career break as they might have a child at home, have other household responsibilities or have someone they need to look after. Flexible working allows Mums time to drop off children/pick them up from school or activities when needed, and they can then choose to work before the children wake up or in the evening when they are in bed or their partner is back from work and can help out. In addition, if you are caring for someone other than a child, this allows time for doctors’ appointments or simply looking after them when they need them.
Remote working is also hugely beneficial as it cuts out travelling time, which allows more time for doing other things or looking after someone. The returner may also be concerned about finances as they haven’t worked for a while, and this may be the reason for going back to work. Therefore, saving money on travel could also be a big positive. Moreover, having an about average leave allowance would be good for parents as they can take more time off to look after their child in the school holidays or if the child is ill. Currently, the minimum annual leave allowance in the UK for employees working 5 days a week is 28 days paid leave (including bank holidays), but having more than this will allow for a better work/life balance and carry out any responsibilities they may have.
You can read more about the top 5 employee incentives women in tech value the most here.
There are many benefits to hiring women that are returning to tech, for example having women in the workforce is simply good for the economy. It not only boosts productivity, but it will also help to close the gender pay gap which is defined as the difference in average gross hourly earnings between women and men. Each year, companies of 250 or more employees must publish a report detailing their gender pay gap. The latest reports show that in tech, 91.1% of companies pay their male employees more than their female staff, which is 16% higher than the national average which is 11.6%. This can be exacerbated by women not working, or taking on just part-time work, as it will bring down their average earnings. Reducing the gender pay gap creates greater gender equality while reducing poverty and stimulating the economy as women would have more money to spend. Having more women in tech also allows young girls to have role models and, therefore, encourage them to also go into tech, increasing gender diversity in the industry for future generations.
Moreover, having gender diversity in the workforce provides different viewpoints and ideas, allowing for better problem solving and an increase in business performance. These differences can also help creativity and help challenge any gender stereotypes or workplace discrimination. Having a diverse team also provides companies with a wider talent pool and can help build a more diverse customer-base, creating new business opportunities. For example, females often look for employers that encourage diversity as they are more likely to be treated equally to their male colleagues and will be working with some people that are the same gender, have the same beliefs and backgrounds. Having returnship programmes or helping returners get back to where they were before they went on leave is a good way for business to improve gender diversity at senior levels as they will already be qualified for these roles or can be with a bit of training. This is particularly important in tech as women only hold 10.9% CEO or senior leadership roles in the tech industry.
Women that have already held tech jobs will also be aware of the company culture in the industry and the environment they will likely be working in. This is a benefit because often companies are more male-dominated in the tech industry and the returner will already be aware of this and know that they are comfortable in this environment. Whereas, if you hire someone whose first job is in the field, they might end up leaving, losing the training time that was spent on them, which is a common problem. This is supported by Women in Tech’s survey, which showed a common feeling amongst women is that they are often overlooked or interrupted by the men in the company. One quote is ‘I am the only female manager in my company’s management meetings – yet I am frequently spoken over, cut off, or not given the time to raise my concerns.’ Therefore, it is beneficial to have already had experience in the environment. They will also be aware of what the role entails, even if they aren’t up to date with all the skills, which will reduce the chance of them leaving due to being overwhelmed or the job not being what they expected. Having returnship programmes will also help reduce this risk because both the employee and employer will be able to ensure it is a good fit, before they are made permanent. As already briefly mentioned, hiring returners will also mean you are not teaching someone from scratch and, therefore, will save time and money for the company.
When looking to hire returners, employers should focus job adverts on channels that have a dedicated returner network and promote returner roles. It is also a good idea to ask those who have returned to work how they found the roles and their experiences since returning to work. This will allow effective job descriptions/returnship programme descriptions to be put together for the intended audience. It is also a good idea to put any benefits (such as those that are mentioned above) on the descriptions to entice people to want to apply and any training or mentorship that will be given. Lastly, be open-minded about hiring a returner! It’s not always a bad thing to have had a career break and can even be hugely valuable.
As with hirers, there are some tips for those returning.