Across all industries women returners – those wanting to return to work after an extended period away – make up a significant resource pool for firms around the world. This presents a great opportunity for talent acquisition. However, many organizations struggle to attract and retain female talent due to ineffective returner programmes.
This issue is in part due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a complete redefinition of workplace dynamics. Not only did employees seek greater flexibility – through hybrid working conditions or flexible hours – they also started to rethink their career paths. With the pandemic impacting many people’s mental health, wellbeing was pushed to the top of the agenda and employees wanted to know if their organizations would prioritize implementing the right structures, programmes and networks to support them.
When considering how to attract women returners organizations often fall short in recognizing the continued need for flexibility. Carefully thought-out programmes that are tailored to the needs of women returners are few and far between. At the same time there has been an over-reliance on traditional recruitment sources such as college visits, job fairs, posts on job boards and using conventional recruiters. This results in women returners having to compete against a traditional talent pool, meaning their potential is not always fully realized, magnified or appreciated. Further, organizations can often struggle to recognize the increased demand for unique employment terms, which would better suit returners’ lifestyles.
To more effectively recruit and retain from this important talent pool it is vital that firms focus on further understanding these dynamics and the evolving needs of the workforce population. There are actionable steps that firms can take today to implement effective return-to-work programmes for women.
1. First, firms should ensure there are appropriate pathways for women returning to the workforce. One key example of this is implementing a part-time return-to-work approach. This provides opportunities for women to slowly transition back into the workforce, while also allowing firms to assess returners’ skills against company needs. Many returners will still have obligations, whether it be childcare or elderly care, and would benefit from a flexible transitional period. For financial services companies in particular, it is increasingly important to implement these pathways in order to remain competitive in recruiting talent. Larger tech companies, for example, are known for their impressive returner programmes, flexible working conditions and strong mental health/well-being initiatives.
2. Second, companies must ensure that they have established mentoring support networks and skill-building opportunities. For example, apprenticeship programmes in which returners are paired up with senior leaders to facilitate knowledge sharing and provide valuable advice can be a key enabler of staff retention. This eases returners back into their roles and equips them with the skills to be successful in their roles.
3. Third, returners often face issues with confidence, fear and imposter syndrome when looking to re-join the workforce. Firms can allay these fears through strong commitment to their programmes. HR departments can highlight their commitment to women and engage in conversations with them in public forums. For example, using mothers’ networks, both online and offline, to encourage women to re-join the workforce and explore new opportunities could potentially help some to overcome their imposter syndrome.
At DTCC we implemented our Re-Emerge programme to provide returners with hands-on experience on key projects, leadership development and networking opportunities. The programme is designed for anyone who wants to restart their career after a break of two or more years, offering internships in technical and non-technical tracks. Through this experience participants become re-oriented to working in the corporate environment, learn about DTCC’s culture and understand exactly what the company does and how they’ll fit in.
4. Finally, it is crucial that firms maintain flexibility for their returners. It is paramount that returners are not pigeonholed into certain roles. Organizations should champion motivation and potential when considering returners for roles as opposed to simply practical experience. This allows for a more inclusive environment with a richer diversity of viewpoints.
Ultimately, implementing effective return-to-work programmes is vital for any organization. Returners are a crucial, experienced talent pool from which organizations should actively seek to recruit. Incorporating returners back into company culture leads to greater diversity and adds significant value to organizations. It is therefore imperative that organizations implement the key steps highlighted here to ensure the continued acquisition and retention of women returner talent.
Keisha Bell, pictured below, is managing director, head of talent management and diversity, equity and inclusion at US post-trade financial services company DTCC