International Woman's Day #BreakTheBias

written by Lynn Houmdi, co-creator and Programme Manager of Making Work Work – for Women Returners

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and this year’s theme is #BreakTheBias. But as employers, we aren’t only thinking about women – and certainly not only thinking about them on one day of the year. However, International Women’s Day serves as a reminder and a moment to reflect on how we might get the best out of our people and how we might improve our inclusion to ensure our workforce reflects the communities we seek to serve, support and work with. So this year, we have asked Lynn Houmdi, co-creator and Programme Manager of Making Work Work – for Women Returners, to write our International Women’s Day blog.

This year, on International Women’s Day, I would like to spotlight women returners. Women returners are those women who have had a career break (for example, for childcare, other caring, health, disability, menopause, relocation, redundancy or other reasons) and seek to return to the workplace.

Making Work Work

I run a programme called Making Work Work – for Women Returners, which I co-created with The Challenges Group, an Edinburgh-based group of social businesses and charities. The women we work with have management experience or aspirations. They are talented, skilled and keen to get back into the workplace, but they find it hard. We help rebuild their confidence after a period out of work, support them to refresh their skills and networks, and provide key intel on the employers who will enable them to create fulfilling (work)life blends. Their career gaps have typically enabled them to hone their skills around time and task management, negotiation and resilience on top of a wealth of transferable skills gained in various sectors. They are focused, enthusiastic and keen to learn.

The career ladder is broken

Research suggests that women typically face a penalty for stepping out of work. Before their break, the work they did often no longer works for them and their families. In addition, women returners typically cannot work full-time. Therefore, they seek part-time and flexible working arrangements. Unfortunately, part-time roles are frequently offered at lower skills and remuneration levels, which stalls wage and pension progression.
Not all women on our Programme are mums. But the majority are. Women in the UK are having their children later, meaning they are often highly trained and skilled when they take time out. This is a significant loss to employers and to the economy. Research by PWC suggests that there are £1.1bn potential earnings gains to professional women and a potential boost of £1.7bn to UK GDP from addressing the career break penalty in the UK. And professional women only make up around a third of women returning to the workplace in any year.

More diverse companies do better

The difficulties women returners face in finding well-paid, meaningful work that fits around their commitments also contributes to the Gender Pay Gap. Meaning decision-makers in organisations potentially don’t reflect customers and client groups or provide the diversity of thought necessary for productivity, impact and profit. Regular research by McKinsey shows on a data set of 1000 companies in 15 countries demonstrates that more diverse companies are more profitable.

The good news is that almost anything you can do to attract, recruit and retain women returners will help you attract, recruit and retain other skilled candidates, potentially beyond your usual recruitment circles.

Supporting women returners; supporting diversity and inclusion

Firstly, flexible, remote, hybrid and part-time working patterns are hugely attractive to women returners, who often have commitments that mean they can’t work full-time. When insurance giant Zurich added the option of part-time, full-time, job share or flexible working to all vacancies in 2019, they saw a 16% rise in women applying for jobs. This was a near 20% jump in female applications for management roles, and the number of women hired for senior roles as a direct result of the initiative increased by 33%. Alternative working patterns are attractive to disabled candidates, people managing chronic illnesses or health conditions, and menopausal women. Research recently conducted by CIPD and Bupa found one million British women have had to leave their jobs due to menopausal symptoms. By offering remote or hybrid working, you can draw on a talent pool much broader than the average commuting distance. And showing that yours is an organisation that has learned from the pandemic and listened to its staff, supporting your inclusion strategy and improving your employer brand for new recruits.

Is it a “Human-sized job”

Secondly, as well as considering how and where the job can be done, reflect on whether it needs to be done as it previously was. Check that it is a “human-sized job” and not one that grew to fit the availability and aptitudes of the previous incumbent. Build time for this reflection into your recruitment processes and ensure that the available working patterns (as well as the salary scale) are on the ad. In 2021 Timewise found that many employers were working flexibly (70%); however, they were not advertising their posts as open to flexible working. Candidates are not clairvoyants – women returners will avoid applying for roles where their needs cannot be accommodated.

Shout about it

Finally, shout about what you offer. I encourage everyone on our Programme to do their due diligence and seek out prospective employers who are open and inclusive. Women returners want to see that diversity and inclusion is part of an organisation’s lifeblood, not a dusty policy on a shelf. Potential applicants want to know that people like them work for your company and succeed with you. And they want to know that their contributions are welcome and valued.

These three actions will help women returners feel like they are welcome and belong in your organisation. And they will contribute to the diversity of your organisation overall and help #BreakTheBias.

If you would like to share your experience of recruiting or retaining women returners, would like to learn from good practice at other employers, or would like a chance to meet our superstar returners, please get in touch!


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