Women returning from career breaks can fill skills gaps

panel of 6 women at robert walters event in birmingham standing in front of blue robert walters sign

With the number of available roles increasing in the first half of 2016, we are continuing to see a spike in the need for skilled professionals. Women who have taken a break from their career can make a huge contribution to individual businesses and fill the skills gaps faced by employers.

At the latest Robert Walters Empowering Women in the Workplace event on Attracting, Developing and Retaining Women Returning to the Workforce, a panel of industry experts discussed key ways employers can attract talented professionals returning after a career break.   

Developing effective strategies for attracting women returning to the workforce begins with understanding what motivates them to return, what they look for in a job and what they want from an employer after a career break. 

Competitive pay is important

The whitepaper, created from surveying over 1000 professionals working across the UK, revealed that salary is a key priority - 90% of women ranked a high salary as important when they returned to work after a career break. 

Companies who can offer competitive packages are more likely to attract and secure the most talented women when they return to work. 

Promote flexibility

The survey also highlighted that 79% of women said that finding a job with greater flexibility was a top priority, and 52% changed industry or profession to find a more family friendly employer.

Anna Barsby, former CIO at Halford's stated, "Flexibility is the number one thing that needs to change to attract female professionals. There are many smaller factors but overwhelmingly flexibility is the one thing that needs to change. Corporations aren’t flexible enough in where, when and how people work."

"Until they are we wont be able to fully tap into that skilled work pool.“

"The new generation of professionals want more flexibility. They are finding having a career based not around 9am-5pm, but 5am-9pm is not attractive. Attracting women will be important but to do so in the younger generations you have to be willing to work with them to find a system that works best for them," said Francesca McDonagh, Head of Retail Banking & Wealth Management UK and Europe, HSBC Bank plc. 

Hiring targets help to do something different

When asked what they believe the usefulness of gender-based hiring targets are many panellists agreed that on occasions where "you do something different you get a different outcome."

Having targets prompts companies to look at hiring differently, and can start the right conversation about pipelines, development and training programmes but it doesnt mean you give jobs to candidates who dont deserve it. Flexibility is the number one thing that needs to change to attract female professionals. Corporations aren’t flexible enough in where, when and how people work.

It isnt about choosing a woman for a role if she isnt the best candidate, instead targets promoting female hires should make companies work harder to develop current female employees to reach senior roles. 

Liz McKenzie, COO - The Wesleyan said, "Sometimes quotas [and female hiring initiatives] are the thing that make you do something different to plan for the future. If not utilised correctly they can be a double edged sword though and give a stigma to a company." 

Francesca McDonagh expanded on her company's target to have 50% of HSBC's senior appointments be women by 2020, "Setting targets creates a discussion about our pipeline, do we have women in 4 or 5 years time that will get into that position? If we don’t, what are we doing now about our pipeline to change that?”

Severn Trent Water's Group Commercial Director Helen Miles added, "It is really important because targets open up discussion but ultimately jobs and roles should be awarded on meritocracy even when female-focused initiatives are in place." 

Then use these instances as case studies for other talented professionals to highlight where women have progressed to within the company. 

Empowering women in the workplace


Empowering women in the workplace 


Download your complete interview guide


Is negotiation a man's game?


Search for jobs