Conquering career comebacks


Throughout their professional careers, women have the option to take time out. Starting a family tends to be the most common reason, but it by no means the only one. A lack of job satisfaction or a desire to travel or explore an entirely new career path may also prompt a break.


Whatever the reason, these breaks should not put female professionals at a disadvantage in their career progression; but with the pay gap rising between men and women when women take time out, the evidence suggests it does.


Research published by the UK government, Secondary analysis of the gender pay gap, found that median earnings increase for men up to and including the 40-49 age bracket, before decreasing. However, median earnings for women were found to be greatest for those aged 30-39. This, the research suggests, is in part attributable to the increase in the proportion of women working part-time increasing between 30-39 and 40-49.


Those figures are not the only evidence of this inequality. According to HM Revenue & Customs data obtained by international law firm Clyde & Co, the percentage of UK women classified as high earners has not changed over the past six years. While research conducted by PWC, Women returners, found that 65% of returning professional women work below their potential, resulting in male salaries increasing rapidly.


The issue seems to be about getting women back into work after a break, and so some organisations are implementing steps to try and help with the transition.


There have been moves to try and close this gap with the introduction of mandatory pay reports in the UK as well as ‘returnship’ schemes - high-level internships that help professionals who have taken an extended career break back into their roles.


Mind the gap


In April 2017, the British Government introduced a gender pay gap reporting initiative, which requires UK organisations with more than 250 employees to publish their annual gender pay data.


This initiative hopes to encourage transparency within the workplace and inspire action to help close the pay gap. Each company’s declaration must include:

  • the difference in average earnings between men and women;
  • the difference in average bonus payments between men and women;
  • the proportion of women and men in each pay quartile; and
  • whether a company complies with the regulation and how it compares to other companies.

Firms are being given 12 months to publish the results and can also provide a narrative alongside the data. They must also provide evidence of what they are doing to narrow the pay gap.


Fail to provide such data within the year, and The Equality and Human Rights Commission has the power to enforce compliance.


Will this act have any impact?


By trying to encourage transparency, it is hoped that organisations will naturally look at addressing the issue of pay differences. However, Sally Dhillon, partner at Career-Mums, an organisation that helps reintroduce women into the workplace after career breaks, argues it will take more than just that.


“Mandatory reporting will help to draw attention to the issue and most importantly provide the impetus for businesses to take action towards closing the gap at an organisational level. The gender pay gap won’t close until we’ve removed the ‘motherhood penalty’ – possible solutions include greater adoption of flexible working policies, improved access to childcare, greater use of shared parental leave, fathers being fully involved in childcare, improved gender intelligence and unconscious bias,” she says.


What can procurement do?


Procurement may not be responsible for publishing pay data, but it can and should be actively involved in helping establish fairer wages and working conditions for its female staff. How can it do that? By showing a willingness to change.


According to the Procurement Leaders Salary Survey 2017, women lag behind men in terms of pay, collecting some 75% of the average male salary. The same survey revealed that women were more likely than men to be planning to leave their jobs in the next two years and 15% of female respondents stated that they were actively searching for a new role or were in the stages of securing a job elsewhere.


This demonstrates the clear issue of retention. Bringing about a discussion on this and considering why the pay gap exists could help bring that rate down.



The issue is not about women’s abilities in senior roles, it is about giving them an equal opportunity to fill them.


The survey indicated that fewer women reach senior positions and few are afforded opportunities to manage a larger number of subordinates. Just 12% of CPO-level respondents were female; this suggests that, as many women take a career break, this perhaps stilts their chances of reaching these senior positions.


Procurement and the wider business should both be doing more to increase the number of women in the function, as well as in senior roles, by ensuring adequate support and equal opportunities are made available.


The rise of the returnship


In March 2017, telecommunications giant Vodafone launched a ReConnect programme to help women in 26 countries back into the workplace after taking a career break. The programme follows a one-year pilot across 11 countries in which, according to a Vodafone representative, the age of participants was mixed. While it featured mainly 39- and 40-year-olds, women in their 20s and 50s were also involved. For the rollout of the wider returnship programme, the company has an ambitious target to reach 1,000 ReConnect recruits within three years.


“Innovations such as our global maternity policy (a mandatory minimum global maternity policy where women working at all levels across Vodafone’s 30 operating companies in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and the US are offered the minimum of 16 weeks full paid maternity leave as well as full pay for a 30-hour week in the initial six months after they return to work) and now our new ReConnect programme can make a real difference to women who work for us today and who will work for us in the future,” said Vodafone Group chief executive, Vittorio Colao, in a press release.


Training is an integral part of the scheme, too. Induction and training are provided for women reentering the workplace, however, the programme also includes unconscious bias training for managers. The ability to draft employment terms that feature flexible working hours is also high on the programme’s priority.


It’s not just Vodafone prioritising supporting women on their return to work after a career break. Professional services giant, EY has a dedicated 12-week paid programme offering a supported role into work. Credit Suisse, meanwhile, runs a similar initiative called Real Returns.


But while businesses are taking these steps, something else needs to change: mindsets.


“Managers tend to get locked into a mindset that only someone who’s done a very specific job can be successful in that job. But that’s not necessarily true,” says Tami Forman, executive director at Path Forward.


“It can often backfire as most of us want to be challenged – we don’t want a job that’s just like the one we had.”


A diverse workforce is an asset to any organisation. There may be certain elements that are out of the hands of procurement executives but the things that it can control, such as listening to the needs of its female staff, offering them appropriate job opportunities when they return to work, and being transparent and fair about pay, can all help the function become more attractive to not only the organisation’s current female staff but also to its female leaders of the future.


This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.