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Breaking Stereotypes

Returners programmes must be a priority to encourage women back into work


Jacqueline de Rojas

President of techUK, who are changing perceptions on career breaks through returners programmes

Women returning to the workforce after career breaks are often under-confident of their professional skills. Returners programmes can change workplace perceptions towards women and improve the diversity in the workforce, empowering these women to return.

The lack of representation of women in senior STEM roles remains critically low. Only one in six IT professionals are women and one in ten senior IT professionals are women. Work is being done to improve interest at all levels. Above all we must make a concerted effort to ensure there are senior females to act as role models.

Women are daunted by the idea of returning to the workforce after a career break. This is a key barrier to improving senior female representation. For this reason, 60% of mother returners feel either less confident or not confident in the contribution they can make. This also affects confidence in their professional skills.

In the first place, in a fast-changing sector like tech, the prospect of returning to work is even more daunting than in other industries. This is where new technologies are transforming work practices rapidly. This must be remedied through proficient returner programmes, which ease the process for women.

What is a returners programme?

A returners programme seeks to upskill mid to senior-level women who have taken a career break. These programmes usually take place over a number of weeks, with content varying between companies. They aim to secure full-time employment on completion.

Why are they important?

We are creating more jobs than we can fill in the technology field. So, we have a pressing talent pool issue. We need to include women to enable this country to thrive as a digital nation of significance! Improving gender representation across seniority rankings, returners programmes shift workplace perceptions surrounding a woman’s right to return to work and challenge the unconscious stigma around career breaks.

Firstly, by running such schemes, employers are recognising the value that women returners can contribute to work. Employers can take positive steps in encouraging them to return to the workplace.

Secondly, the courses empower women to feel confident to return to the workplace. This will likely result in more assertive and confident female leaders.

An increase in diversity improves business outcomes.


There are a number of initiatives seeking to change workplace attitudes towards career breaks – such as shared maternity-paternity leave – and many are fostering a perception change around shared parental responsibility. However, returners programmes directly address the concerns of women who have taken a break and show the rest of the workforce the great contributions these individuals can offer.

Building on this year’s International Women’s Day theme – #PressforProgress – returners programmes are largely demand-led initiatives. I encourage all that read this to #PressforProgress by discussing these programmes with your employer or, if you are the employer, ensuring you have the mechanism to attract untapped talent.

techUK has created the Returners Hub, a free resource for women looking to get back into tech. It includes details of several different programmes so they can pick the one that works for them.

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