Yes, we need to encourage more females to study sciences and engineering at school and university, and yes, we need to provide strong role models and mentors to demonstrate just how rewarding careers in engineering can be. But like other careers that require high level skills, and where technologies and thinking change rapidly, as soon as individuals, particularly women, look to their own future career path, they begin to see pitfalls.

Dr Katie Perry
Dr Katie Perry
Chief Executive, the Daphne Jackson Trust

Carefully planned maternity leave often turns in to a career break that lasts more than two years, and it's easy to see why some choose to move in to less rapidly changing fields, where a step back doesn't have to mean losing a foothold. Fortunately, both commercial and academic organisations are recognising that here is a pool of highly skilled women that could be tapped, and who, with the right support and retraining could return to engineering careers and make an invaluable contribution to the UK's engineering skill base.

The Daphne Jackson Trust is a charity that offers part-time paid fellowships to women and men wishing to return to research careers following a break of two or more years. Nine out of ten Fellows are women returning after a break to bring up children, and one in six is an engineer. One of the Trust's first returners, Professor Andree Woodcock, now leads the Integrated Transport and Logistics team at Coventry University.

As an organisation, the Trust not only sees past career breaks, it knows that people acquire new skills during them. The Fellowship provides the mentoring and retraining that individuals need to rebuild their confidence and up-skill, empowering them to make a successful return to work.

Career breaks often extend beyond five years, during which time an individual's circumstances can change dramatically, making it harder for them to travel at short notice, relocate or work unsociable hours. Many women returning to the workplace seek flexible working, not necessary part-time hours. For example, being able to work remotely, or adjust hours to fit with school terms, makes the work-life balance manageable, and the return to work sustainable. Bespoke training, identified by, and tailored to the individual, is also key to a successful return. Most Daphne Jackson Fellows are returning to academic research, and the retraining the Fellowship provides effectively puts them back on a par with their peers.

Two thirds of universities in the UK have hosted a Daphne Jackson Fellow, and increasingly, as organisations look for better ways to ensure equality and diversity in their workforce, more sponsors, including industry partners such as Rolls-Royce and Selex are supporting the scheme. But more needs to be done, and it's time that every research institution and R&D team stepped up to sponsor and host Daphne Jackson Fellows.