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Plugging one of the biggest gaps in the workforce: Women returners

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

We have spoken before about how women can boost their chances of returning to the workplace after time away. Now our focus is on how this vital sector of the workforce can benefit the Employers hiring them.

The spotlight has long been on the so-called skills gap in the UK. Being unable to fill positions because job seekers lack the necessary skills is arguably one of the single greatest challenges, and indeed frustrations, for employers. It’s a longstanding and multi-faceted issue, but there is an under-utilised pool of talent that could be the key to closing the gap. It’s time to wake up to the potential of women returners.

According to a report by PwC, 76% of women on professional career breaks, either due to family life, caring responsibilities, or for health reasons, want to return to work. The same report also found that two-thirds of returning professional women are working below their potential. Employers who take notice of this untapped talent-rich group could see a whole host of benefits to their organisations.

Fresh perspectives and broader experience

Women returners are often assumed to have a lack of relevant and up-to-date experience and in fact many are discarded by a single tick box on an application form. Employers should instead begin to consider seeing extended career breaks as periods of self-development.

Returning women are likely to have a skill-set that has been enhanced by their experiences outside of professional employment. Often, they have kept up-to-date with industry trends by reading journals and keeping in touch with their former employer, or built a whole new transferrable skillset by volunteering or freelancing.

Understanding the value of the experiences women have gained while out of the workforce could unlock the potential for them and add a new dimension to your teams.

Boost employee engagement

The prospect of career fulfilment is a major driver for women who return to the workplace. Yet they tend to fall victim to the misconception that they will be inflexible and not as committed to the job – PwC reported that 23% of women cited negative bias as a barrier to re-entering the workforce.

This is a motivated group keen to return to the meaningful work that they enjoyed and excelled in prior to taking a career break. Employers should be sure to utilise returning women if they want to build an engaged workforce. Engaged employees equals higher service, quality and productivity.

Diversity is good for business

Many organisations have ambitious gender diversity targets to meet and hiring women returners is the key to narrowing the gender gap and encouraging diverse teams. The business case for diversity in the workplace is overwhelmingly strong. Diverse teams tend to make more effective business decisions, increase employee satisfaction and are more responsive to competition and market trends. It makes financial sense too – businesses see an increase in ROI when there’s more diversity in an organisation.

Fostering inclusivity

By improving diversity in teams, organisations will be building a stronger pipeline of female leaders. The attraction and retention of women returners will give rise to an increased number of female talent who can progress through the hierarchical structure to reach board level.

With more female representation at this level, they can foster inclusivity from the top, enrich the working culture and provide a competitive strength that can help to deliver business strategy.

An attractive working culture will go full circle by helping to attract and retain the best talent and secure the leadership pipeline for the future.

If you’re looking for a Recruitment partner who will take the time to really get to know your company’s culture and your needs, get in touch on 01865 335 600 or

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