CEO and Co-Founder, Women Returners
One key step to increasing gender balance in tech is addressing the personal and structural barriers that prevent experienced women professionals returning after career breaks.
Every year, large numbers of qualified and experienced female tech professionals pause their careers, typically for caring reasons. Erosion of professional self-confidence is a major barrier to bringing these talented women back into the sector when they want or need to return. However, the challenges don’t stop there.
Personal and structural barriers
“It had been 14 years since I had been near an IT project. I had no idea where to start. I wasn’t convinced any prospective employer would choose my CV.” Previously a Senior IT Manager, Alice’s self-doubts after a long break to raise her three children nearly stopped her from even trying to resume her career.
This fragile self-confidence, experienced by many talented returners, is compounded when they re-enter the job market. Standard recruitment processes are biased against candidates without recent experience, particularly in technical roles. Few returners get past a CV screen and those who do find that assessments are tailored for people with up-to-date skills and knowledge.
The volume and speed of the post-pandemic tech hiring surge is creating additional hurdles. Under pressure to fill multiple roles, recruiters prioritise more polished candidates who they see as able to ‘hit the ground running’.
Standard recruitment processes are biased against candidates without recent experience, particularly in technical roles.
Government and employer support
The economic imperative to address this wasted talent was highlighted in March, when the UK Government announced funding for returners to STEM.
The barriers are surmountable with targeted initiatives. Support for returners at the early stages of the return-to-work journey equips women with greater confidence and skills for their job search. In early 2022, the Scottish Government funded Women Returners to provide coaching, mentoring and interview skills training to 84 women on a career break. The result of which was 100% reported significant progress in their return-to-work readiness and a third have already secured employment.
To tackle recruitment biases, corporate returner programmes have proven effectiveness. By ringfencing roles, tailoring assessments and providing transition support, leading employers have recruited and retained cohorts of returners at mid-to-senior levels. There has been an encouraging increase in tech returner programmes with employers such as BT, Aviva and Bloomberg and a pilot fintech cross-company programme.
Alice is now thriving back at work thanks to a returner programme, but more support is needed to smooth the path back to STEM for all career returners.