Tags: HR, hr, blog

By Debbie Caswell

Becoming a parent is undoubtedly a significant milestone in anyone’s life, and a responsibility which many women choose to take on full time. Unfortunately, what should be a noble vocation often hampers a woman’s professional prospects when she does decide to return to the job market following a career break to focus on childcare responsibilities.

A recent study has confirmed what thousands of women have suspected for quite some time now – that employers are more likely to hire an under-qualified candidate, then one who has taken a career break. In this blog, I take a look the current state of affairs for mothers returning to the world of work, and why employers need to shift their biases to support female talent.

The Career Break Penalty

It’s no secret that women who take time out of the workplace suffer discrimination as a result. New research by PwC, Women Returners and the 30% Club says that two thirds of female professionals end up working below their potential when they return to work after career breaks.

They estimate that out of the 427,000 women in the UK on a career break, around 249,000 are likely to enter lower-skilled roles when they return to work. While a further 29,000 women are forced to work fewer hours than they want due to a lack of flexible working provisions. These downgraded women can end up experiencing a 12 to 32 percent reduction in their hourly earnings - or an average loss of £4,000 per year.

The research is backed up by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which recently found that mothers who return to work end up earning a third less than men, as the birth of a child cuts their chances of getting promotions and pay rises. Men’s salaries tend to continue growing rapidly at this point in the life cycle (particularly for the highly-educated), while women’s wages plateau.

In addition, a survey of 3,200 working mums by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) revealed that three quarters had experienced bias as a result of having had children - being passed over for promotions, or even forced out of their jobs.

Why employers need to support mothers returning to the world of work

While there are certainly many ways in which candidates can put off a prospective employers, having a gap in work history shouldn’t be one of them. It’s also important to note that preventing women - with years of professional experience under their belts - from fulfilling their full potential simply because they have taken a career break is not only detrimental to the candidates themselves, but also to businesses.

According to research by PwC, the challenges faced by women returning to the workplace costs the UK an estimated £1.7bn per year in lost economic output. Furthermore, employers who follow biased and discriminatory recruitment practices also deny themselves access to an untapped talent pool.

Many women who decide to take career breaks have a wealth of valuable experience and creativity but find the route back into a senior business position trying at best, due to diminished confidence and a CV gap. This often leads to would-be returning (and valuable) professionals turning their back on corporate life, joining smaller local companies, developing their own business ventures, or focusing on voluntary activities.

Supporting a returning workforce

Despite the progress the UK has made in terms of improving opportunities for women in the workplace, there is still underutilised potential within women returning from career breaks. For this reason, Chartered Psychologist, Julianne Miles co-founded the Women Returners Professional Network to connect firms with candidates who want to get back into work but have a lengthy gap on their CV.

Returnships are higher-level internships which act as a bridge back to senior roles for experienced professionals who have taken an extended career break. They are professionally-paid short-term employment contracts, typically of 3 to 6 months, with a strong possibility of an ongoing role at the end of the programme. Participants take on commercially significant work based on their skills, interests and prior experience, obtaining a supported route back to a professional role.

Another way that a growing number of companies - such as KPMG, Unilever, Booth Ainsworth and Crowe Clark Whitehill - support women returning to the workplace is through providing flexible working arrangements. While many businesses are still dragging their feet in this regard due to the misconception that flexible working decreases productivity, research from the CIPD shows that implementing flexible working practices can actually improve staff engagement and motivation.

These methods offer a practical solution to attract and support highly-qualified, experienced and professional women returning to the workforce. Not only does the individual applicant benefit from the opportunity to showcase their talent and enhance it through dedicated training sessions, but businesses can also gain the maturity, stability and wisdom of seasoned professionals.

Are you a woman returning to the professional workforce!

Are you a mom with professional experience who is endeavouring to re-enter the workforce? At Search, we recruit for a number of roles within Professional Services, including HR, Legal and Accountancy & Finance. We are committed to help you on the right track towards the career that matches your qualifications and experience, regardless of career breaks on your CV. To see our latest vacancies, click here.