Diversity in Tech Report > Expert take: Women Returners

Expert take

Setting up a Successful Returnship
by Women Returners

Women Returners is a purpose-led consulting, coaching and network organisation which works with employers and career returners to enable the return to work of professionals who have taken an extended career break for childcare, eldercare or other reasons.

Why are returnships a solution to developing a robust talent pipeline?

Career returners are a strong talent pool with a wealth of experience from before and during their career breaks. There are 75,000 UK STEM returners who want to get back to work. However, they face high barriers to resuming their career, including reduced professional self-confidence, a loss of networks and widespread recruiter bias against candidates without recent experience who are perceived to be ‘risky candidates.’

A returnship, a paid 3-6 month professional placement with a wrapper of support, offers a proven solution to harness this wasted talent. Since 2014, these programmes have been adopted by over 200 UK employers. They have acted as a supported bridge back to work for over 1,000 professionals, who have taken career breaks of 1-30 years. Typically, 80-90%+ of participants secure ongoing roles at a mid-to-senior level after a well-structured returnship.

“Closing recruitment doors to talented tech professionals with a CV gap is a major issue for business and society. Returnships can help to address STEM skills shortages and tackle persistently low levels of gender and ethnic diversity in the tech sector”

- Julianne Miles, CEO and Co-Founder, Women Returners

Typically, 80-90%+ of participants secure ongoing roles at a mid-to-senior level after a well-structured returnship.

Top Tips for setting a returnship up for success

  1. Structure the programme with a permanent role as the goal
    1. Professional-level work, ramping up over the programme
    2. Ringfenced headcount after the returnship
  2. Position the business and societal rationale
    1. Good for Business: Attracting high-calibre motivated talent with diversity of gender, ethnicity and experience
    2. Business for Good: Removing career break discrimination
  3. Understand and address the challenges for both returners and managers
    1. Provide practical and psychological support for returners: upskilling training, coaching and mentoring
    2. Provide specialised training for interviewers and line managers
  4. Get champions at all levels
    1. Senior leadership buy-in 
    2. Supportive hiring managers
    3. Dedicated Programme Manager(s)
  5. Analyse and tailor each stage of recruitment for returners
    1. Use returner-focused attraction channels
    2. Adapt assessment processes to be suitable for candidates without recent work experience
  6. Begin with a learning-focused pilot
    1. Focus on quality not quantity
    2. Test, learn, adapt and grow
  7. Get support from career returner experts
    1. Don’t reinvent the wheel 
    2. Women Returners can help: we’ve partnered with over 150 employers on returner programmes and have a network of 8,000 returners