Monday 1 October 2018 10:34 am

Lower the barrier for women returning to work


The recent surge in attention on flexible working has in turn placed a renewed emphasis on women’s careers, and the conflict that they may experience – a staggering 70 per cent of working women fear taking a career break.

What can be done to combat this, and how should employers be approaching this key demographic?

Barriers to returning

Women may leave careers at several points in their working lives, such as for maternity leave, and often find it hard to return, tarred with the “homemaker” stereotype, and assumed to be unambitious and inflexible.

Read more: "Returnships" will boost women in work, says cross-party MPs group

One of the largest barriers for returners is lack of confidence, which may stop them from applying in the first instance or, should they apply, continuing with the recruitment process.

It is critical that career returners experience an engaging and thought-provoking process – from the initial job search to CV development and interviewing – enabling them to get a feel for the organisation, and how they can be part of its success.

The logistics of managing work, family, and other commitments is a common concern – many women worry that they may not have access to the flexibility they need, whether that’s a part-time role, or the occasional change of hours. Organisations therefore need to commit to providing flexibility not just to the career returners, but to all their staff to ensure that a work-life balance is met, and banish the stigma of part-time working.

Bridging the gap

To tackle the specific challenges faced by women returners, more companies are embracing flexibility. While this is a great development, business leaders must now turn their focus to how to drive change in the number of women coming back to the workforce in the first place.

During the recruitment process, it’s essential to demonstrate an inclusive culture. Women need to feel confident in the employer’s ability to provide what they are looking for, and that starts with the job advert itself. Certain words and phrases can be off-putting, so it’s important that an organisation uses inclusive, gender-neutral adverts and descriptions.

When women return to work after a prolonged absence, it may sometimes appear that they are no longer qualified for the job they left. But often this is not the case. Hiring managers should investigate relevant alternative or equivalent qualifications to avoid missing out on some potentially fantastic female colleagues.

Aside from formal qualifications, hiring managers should look at the valuable skills they may have developed during their time away from the workplace.

Creating a supportive recruitment process for candidates returning to work will help prevent women from removing themselves from the process due to a lack of confidence. When companies are advertising, screening, and managing the recruitment process for returner candidates, a bespoke approach should be created so that it highlights the candidate’s strengths, and enables them to show potential.


The desire among women on career breaks to return to work presents an opportunity for businesses with the foresight to reconnect with them.

We live in a progressive time, and businesses should therefore be thinking in more progressive ways, putting aside their hesitancy toward this persistently underestimated yet experienced and skilled talent pool.

These women are determined, resourceful, and committed. If companies don’t act now, they risk not only alienating the returners, but also losing existing female talent, and hurting their organisation’s bottom line.

Read more: Thousands of women forced into lower-paid jobs after a career break