THE BLOG

Welcoming Women Back

15/06/2017 15:42 BST | Updated 28/06/2017 11:20 BST

There's been a lot of talk about Return to Work programs or 'Returnships', which was the clever description invented by Goldman Sachs in 2008. These programs tend to target women who've taken time out to take care of their children or elderly relatives. March's budget, £5m, was pledged to support these schemes, which are also open to men as it wouldn't do to appear sexist. Employers are starting to embrace the concept which effectively recognises that women don't forget their years of studying, corporate experience and professional qualifications just because they've given birth to a child or two.

When I was out of the workforce, taking care of three children under four, I lived in a small town in Connecticut about 50 miles outside of New York City. Play groups were competitive events with the main judging criteria being: Snack Provision (bought/home-made), Toy Provision (plastic/wooden) and House Cleanliness (speaks for itself). After hosting one of these events I'd have to lie down on the sofa for a few days to recover. There was one memorable Christmas playdate where one of the moms had no less than twenty-six Christmas trees in her house. Twenty-six. Christmas. Trees. All at least five foot tall, all fully decorated. It was like living in some kind of Stepford parallel universe. When the children started school, the Parent Teacher Organisations terrified me. They were run by formidable women who'd left careers in the city to become 'Homemakers'. It was a hugely competitive environment considering it was in the voluntary sector.

I accidentally became a 'Returnship' pioneer (given that it was 2007 and they hadn't been invented yet), when I started to work for Deloitte. Somehow, I managed to get by without the confidence boosting sessions which are an integral part of return schemes. For me, I loved having conversations which didn't begin and end with how much sleep you'd had. I could eat lunch in peace, and go to the bathroom by myself. The value of these two things should not be under-estimated. In fact, employers should forget about all the "Getting your career on track" and "Refresh your skills" enticements and just focus on sandwiches, salads and toilets.

I was lucky that the hiring manager took a chance on me given that I'd never worked in the US, I'd not worked for almost six years, and I was learning an entirely new skillset. I progressed within the firm and was delighted when Cathy Benko's book on the Corporate Lattice came out in 2010. https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Corporate-Lattice-Achieving-Performance-Changing/1422155161 This was a great concept where there was a general acknowledgement that careers no longer follow a ladder format, and progress at different speeds and in unexpected directions. Crucially the lattice was not solely aimed at women. I left Deloitte to move to Australia, and then Singapore with my family.

Fast forward to 2017 and sadly the idea of a lattice career structure is not yet embedded. It's obvious why large corporations are jumping onto the 'Returnship' concept. After all what's the risk to them? They are recruiting mature, reliable, experienced and qualified employees who've been through the most rigorous time-management training in the world. There is literally no down-side. Sure, a couple of weeks training may be needed to acquire some new skills, but given all that they bring it's astonishing that every single employer isn't proffering a welcome mat, and daily free lattes to attract women back. Unsurprisingly the majority of returning schemes are in London with a few others scattered through regional cities. Have a look who's hiring now at Women Returners. http://womenreturners.com/ Maybe in the next ten years employers in smaller cities could perhaps wake up to the possibilities of hiring women who've taken time out from a traditional career structure. Many of us don't even need retraining or our confidence boosting, we just need the opportunity.