How can it be that the stigma of taking a career break is still so huge? A recent BBC podcast focused on how the struggle for women to return to work after a brief career break is a mammoth task. The interviewees’ shocked me with their stories of applying for countless jobs, attending networking events and still getting nowhere. These experienced professionals who have taken some time off – either to care for children or elderly relatives, or simply for themselves – have found this has left their career prospects in the dust.
The full podcast referenced returnships as an opportunity for women to return to the workplace at a seniority level similar to that they enjoyed before taking a career break. They often include technology-focused training, flexible working options and mentoring schemes, which can be a great support after a long time out of work. Being part of the scheme lessens the pressure on you to be immediately up to date with any workplace changes while also providing help to get up to speed quickly. This means you can return to work at a more senior level – and be paid the right amount for your skill set.
Sounds perfect, right? Returnships are not favoured by everyone, however. Firstly, these opportunities aren’t regularly available, with only 64 employers having launched returnships in 2018. In addition, there isn’t always a job open at the end of the scheme. Similar to internships, only a percentage of participants will receive a permanent job role once it’s over. While this is positive for employers, as it’s seen as ‘low risk’, it offers the ‘returnee’ much less security.
So why do we even need these returnship schemes? Research from PWC confirms it is common for recruiters and organisations to associate career breaks with a decline of skills. This point of view is incredibly damaging both for the often perfectly capable and qualified candidates and the organisations that are missing out on top talent by immediately removing them from the running for an arbitrary reason.
Instead of these few and far between returnships, with limited permanent roles available at the end of the journey, we need to change the discourse around career breaks and take advantage of this underutilised talent pool. It’s time to stop thinking about old biases and start considering the new skills returners offer.
While HR teams and recruitment professionals have a huge responsibility, it’s our duty to be aware of this issue and call out any biases we spot within our organisations.