Monday 23 January 2017 4:01 pm

Big firms should roll out "returnships" to help women back from career breaks, says cross-party group of MPs

Big firms should introduce paid returner programmes to help women continue their careers after a break, MPs have advised today.

A cross-party group of MPs on women and work has made recommendations from a year-long inquiry into "women returners"; to support those who take a career break and how to help them return.

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Co-chair of the APPG, Conservative MP Flick Drummond, said:

If we want to be a happier and more successful county, we must appreciate that some people take time out of the workplace for either caring responsibilities or to pursue other interests.

But it is unacceptable that taking often unavoidable time out usually means forfeiting future earnings and economic success. For example, on average, women earn more than men in their twenties, but when they turn 30 men begin to significantly outstrip their female counterparts.

Among the top recommendations from the group were:

  • Equalise statutory maternity pay and statutory shared parental leave so couples aren't financially penalised for taking up the latter
  • Employers with 250+ employees should consider putting in place paid returner programmes or returnships with guaranteed training, advice and support
  • Government should enable mothers who are self-employed to claim a form of statutory maternity pay
  • Businesses with 250+ employees should have a carers policy detailing organisation support available for those with caring responsibility

Some City firms already run returner programmes, but according to the Women and Equalities Committee, the number of women forced to leave their job because of fears about the safety of their child or pregnancy discrimination has doubled in the last decade.

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The APPG inquiry heard from a range of organisations and individuals about the difficulties women regularly face when returning to work after a break of more than six months.

Kathryn Tyler, co-founder of digital skills training company Digital Mums, noted the "huge gap" left by mothers being unable to return to work because of  lack of flexible working.

"To address this gap, we need to do more than give women the right to request flexible working in a meeting," Tyler said. "However, this is one area where a top down mandate isn’t the answer. We must convince businesses of the benefits of flexible working if we are to create real change for women and workplace."