Time and time again I hear leaders spurt baseless notions that spread like wildfire. None quite as damaging as this; the belief that women who take a career break are not fit to re-enter the workforce.
Deeply embedded misconceptions and falsehoods have led generation upon generation of business leaders to believe women lose their skillset, their mind and their experience when they take a career break, for whatever reason.
In reality, the notion that womens’ skills become rusty is one that serves only the agenda of those who are being exclusionary.
Here’s the thing - study upon study has proven the value women bring to the UK economy, and yet, the odds are wildly stacked against those who want to return to the world of work.
A perfect storm underpinned by gender inequality (the societal expectation of women, the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on women, and a cost of living turned childcare crisis that has put additional pressure on women) has left spades of talent sidelined and feeling paralysed in a catch-22. Notable negative bias towards CV gaps has only exacerbated existing difficulties.
It’s time leaders wake up to what their practices really represent and put a stop to the outdated and misogynistic view of hiring women returners.
I urge you to see CV gaps not as a red flag, or as a basis for you to pass judgement, but instead as a gift. Here’s why:
How women returners will benefit your business
During a career break, women usually experience life events that give them a deeper and richer knowledge of themselves and the world. These new ways of thinking and diverse perspectives will help you to create a marketing output that is more representative of society. Consequentially presenting you with new market and growth opportunities.
Second, the struggle to find the right people has left businesses the world over with sizable talent gaps. Recruiting women returners is an opportunity to repopulate your talent pipeline. In fact, of the two million people in the UK looking to return to work after a period away, 90% are women. So there’s no shortage of choice. Returners, with clarity in the direction of their career, are stable members of the workplace and it would be foolish to turn a blind eye to this demographic.
Third, returning mums, in particular, bring a high degree of motivation and a supreme set of news skills back into the workplace. No more so than the capacity to multitask, singletask, and manage risk, time and teams effectively. The time away from work also offers mums an opportunity to reflect and figure out where they want to commit their time. Someone who makes the decision to return to work and spend time away from children, for example, will likely be more committed to excel at work.
5 actions you can take to encourage women to return
The benefits of women returners are unquestionable. As a leader, it is your responsibility to encourage women back to the workplace.
Here’s how you can achieve that:
- Enrol your HR and recruitment teams on inclusive recruitment and unconscious bias training. Make this a regular event and ensure the training you choose specifically looks at biases toward women who have taken a break from work.
- Make flexible working standard and bake it into your recruitment process. Ensure you are clear about what flexible working constitutes in your business and support flexible working from day one, not just after the probation period. Unfortunately, research shows that 78% of UK job ads make no reference to flexible working arrangements and as a consequence, women often take roles that are beneath their level of skill and ability, because they offer the flexibility they need.
- Get in touch with your MP. Ask for change within parenting policies, flexible working policies and discrimination against women and more support for those in unpaid caring roles, those who have long-term mental health issues, chronic health issues or disabilities.
- If you are a man, advocate in your own workplace for more women in leadership roles. Speak up, champion and support women in leadership.
- Follow and support organisations such as MIND, Pregnant Then Screwed, and the Women’s Business Council.
How to support women returners in your workplace
Too many leaders are treating flexible working as the silver bullet to their recruitment woes. Granted, flexible working has been a game-changer for many - in fact, 70% of women with children said it reduces their need for childcare. But the flexible working aspect is the easy procedural part of the mix.
Once the recruitment process is complete, businesses often neglect the wrap-around support that’s needed. The best return programmes provide support that gives women the confidence to positively own who they are as a mother, caregiver, or career break taker - for whatever reason - and explain what their needs are. Training about how that person sees their personal brand by providing them with mentors and access to coaching.
Setting realistic goals is also vital. Too many businesses unintentionally display bias by using phrases with new recruits or returners such as “hit the ground running”.
The problem with this type of language is that everyone has different needs and some people will take more time to get up to speed. Over 90% of maternity returners said they get no formal support when they return to the workplace, so systemising new expectations could make a big difference.
Emma Murphy is the community director at Creative Equals and leader of Creative Comeback.
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