3 Barriers For Women Returning To Work After Career Breaks

30th Mar 2023

Women take career breaks during their professional lives for several reasons, predominantly to look after a home and family. 76% of them intend to return to their careers at some point, and many are looking for companies that offer flexible working. Today, there are 420,000 professional women at home and economically inactive in the UK. In America, 3.6 million women with bachelor’s degrees or higher are out of the labour force. Many of these women want to return to work but encounter three common barriers :

1. The stigma that recruiters associate with an extended career break or gap in their CV

2. Limited opportunities for flexible working, especially in mid to senior management roles

3. Lack of in-house support to up-skill and regain professional self-belief 

The negative bias towards skilled women returning to work

Are recruiters wrongly judging women for having taken a career break? The general opinion from HR is that a gap in a CV automatically reflects a deterioration in skills or aptitude. Data shows organisations are more likely to recruit less-qualified candidates over highly-skilled women returning to work after an extended career break. Two-thirds of professional female returners reluctantly accept lower-paid jobs, well below their potential. Taking time out did not steal their brains, so these strong, capable, ambitious women are being blocked from returning to the roles they deserve. The good news is that forward-thinking companies are beginning to showcase Back to Business programmes, Returnships, and flexible working in their employer brands.

Talented women need flexible working opportunities after a career break

It is a fact that most women taking career breaks intend to return to work after having or raising young children. Women want to combine home commitments with their careers – like many men. Flexible working and quality part-time opportunities allow professional women to return to work. For example, hybrid or remote working opens doors for many talented returners, enabling them to work longer hours for flexible companies whilst accommodating home commitments.

In 2016, only 2% of organisations offered flexible working for roles with salaries of £100,000 or more, resulting in businesses losing the female talent they had invested in before senior management level. Flexible working is rapidly rising post-pandemic as many companies re-think their hiring and retention processes. However, the historic female brain drain and occupational downgrading will endure until it becomes company culture to offer flexible working and higher-skilled part-time roles as the norm. Making these opportunities more widely available to women returning to work could broaden the talent pool, boosting UK economic output by £1.7 billion and US productive capacity by $33 billion.

“Back to Business” Returnships for women returning to work

Following a career break, it is natural for a woman to lose some self-belief in her professional abilities, despite having gained valuable learning experiences while away from work. Many would prefer a transition period in their chosen company to get up to speed, up-skill and rebuild networks. Returnships are 3-6 month, competitively paid programmes for women returning to work at mid to senior level after an extended break. Their companies provide temporary transitional support to bridge the gap so women returning to work can restart their careers at the level they deserve, with a strong possibility of a permanent role. Returnships combined with a flexible working ethos are the missing link to halting the exodus of women before they reach senior management. Returnships are on an upward trend, with over 50 UK companies broadening their talent strategy by providing Returnships and a flexible working culture to meet the needs of professional women returning to work.