Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Julianne Miles, Managing Director of Women Returners. Following a first career in corporate strategy and marketing, I took my own 4 year parental career break before retraining as a Chartered Psychologist, developing a career psychology practice and then co-founding Women Returners in 2012.
What drove you to create Women Returners?
The creation of Women Returners was driven by a desire for social change – to address the wasted talent of so many highly experienced women who leave the workforce, primarily for childcare but also for other reasons and who never get their careers back. Having had my own long career break, I saw too many women in this situation, all very successful before their breaks, and then struggling to get back into satisfying jobs. Our aim was to build a network community, the Women Returners Professional Network, to help these women regain their self-confidence and to show them that it is possible to find a route back to work that worked for them. We became increasingly frustrated that those returners who wanted to get back into corporate roles found that the doors were closed to them. At the same time, companies across sectors were becoming more focused on taking action to increase diversity and we realised that what was needed was a connection point between companies with a diversity gap and professionals with a CV gap.
Which was why in 2014 we started Women Returners for Employers to create supported bridges back to mid to senior level roles for both men and women who’ve taken long breaks. We have led the introduction and rapid growth of returners, supported hiring and other returner programmes into the UK and now into Ireland.
What do you see as the biggest barrier for people to return to work following a career break?
There are a range of challenges. The biggest practical barrier is the bias of most employers and recruiters towards people who don’t have recent experience. A large-scale US study found that employers would rather hire a less-qualified candidate than one who had been out of the workforce for over a year. Once you’ve been out for a number of years, no matter how strong your experience beforehand, it’s very hard to get a foot in the door through traditional recruitment routes.
Our inner barriers also shouldn’t be underestimated. The biggest barrier here is loss of professional self-confidence, when you have been out of the corporate workforce for a long period, it’s easy to lose your belief that you can do what you did before and to wonder if anyone will employ you. Self-doubts can stop you even exploring if you can make it work.
What more can businesses do to encourage individuals to return to work?
The first thing is to ensure that employees at all levels of the organisation recognise that there is an untapped pool of experienced and diverse talent which can be accessed if hiring managers are more open-minded in recruitment. Once this internal support is there, encouraging returner applications can be as simple as opening up permanent roles to people without recent experience, ideally also providing some coaching and mentoring in the first few months. Other organisations may want to develop a returner programme, targeting a cohort of returners and providing support in a more structured manner. If businesses want to attract the broadest range of returners, they need to also consider what flexibility can be offered at point of hire, as flexible working is important to many returners who took their break for childcare reasons.
Finally, businesses do need to tell returners that they’re interested in them, as many are disillusioned by applying online and never hearing back. Our website acts as a central portal for returner programmes and roles and our network now numbers over 3,200 women so it’s a good place to spread the word about your interest in returners!
Have you seen changes in attitude or behaviour by employers with regard to returners in recent years?
When we started Women Returners for Employers in 2014, returners weren’t part of the business conversation and returnships were unknown in the UK. The small number of corporate employees who had taken multi-year breaks had usually been hired by an ex-colleague. In 2017 the situation is very different, particularly in financial services and STEM. From three returner programmes in 2014, there are over 40 returnships and supported hire programmes this year, and we have been contacted by many more companies across sectors and also across the world interested in this talent pool. We love the fact that cross-company returner initiatives are also being developed, such as the Investment Management Industry’s Diversity project. Government support in the 2017 budget has put returners firmly on the agenda for both public and private sector organisations. Most importantly, many leading employers now have high-calibre returners back working in senior-level roles, which we find is the most effective way to change attitudes and challenge biases.
What is your top tip for those considering returning to the workplace?
Don’t write yourself off! Have confidence in the skills, experience and perspective that you can bring to an organisation, and value your experiences both before and during your break. It may be a windy road back to where you want to be but if you are patient, persistent and focused, it will happen! Read our website success stories for proof that no matter how long your break you can get back into a great job.
Are you looking for a route back into the corporate world? Our Getting Back to Business Programme is always open and looking for new consultants.