How can your company better develop women returning from a career break?


Successful companies do not look for the "easy win" or the "quick buck" when it comes to their employees. Instead, companies who are continuing to grow and innovate realise they have the real responsibility of recognising someone for potential and not just their track record.

We spoke with a panel of industry experts about ways employers can develop talented professionals, especially those returning after a career break, during the latest Robert Walters Empowering Women in the Workplace event focused on Attracting, Developing and Retaining Women Returning to the Workforce.

Individualised development and progression options

Lucy Becque, HR Director - Coventry Building Society said "What constitutes high performance? We sometimes get performance and talent confused. Being clear what you’re talking about, recognising that what works for one person won’t always work for someone else and focusing on the individual will help you be prepared."

Talk to employees and learn how they perform best or what their career goals are, then offer individualised development opportunities where they are appropriate. This could mean offering alternative progression routes or sponsoring different qualifications. Not all employee development policies need to fit in a standard box. 

Anna Barsby, Chief Information Officer - gave an example of differing progression routes that Halfords have created, "Traditionally in IT you have to go through a management path to get promoted but we have a technical path as well. Its brilliant for people who don’t want to be managers but still gives a clear career path for progression.”

Women who have taken a career break remain highly ambitious when they re-join the workforce. However, according to the whitepaper created from surveying over 1000 professionals across the UK, just 27% said their employer offered a structured scheme for development or career progression for professionals returning to work.

Sponsorship or mentoring programmes

Taking the time to invest in employees and provide professional mentorship can drastically increase the chance of that employee's success within an organisation. The research revealed that almost 80% of women would consider a mentor helpful when returning to work but only 8% are offered one.

Mentor and sponsorship programmes allow you to work closely with key individuals and better develop their skills. Mentoring relationships are valuable to all professionals, but women who are returning from a career break may find them particularly helpful in adjusting to their return to the workforce

Helen Miles, Group Commercial Director at Severn Trent Water highlighted how having a sponsor was beneficial to her career, “Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to be in a position working for someone who recognised I was capable of doing a lot more and take on bigger roles."

"They recognised my capabilities and due to that I was given the flexibility I needed to manage demands of my roles along with my family life. Without that I wouldn’t have been able to progress in the way I have."

Mentoring relationships are valuable to all professionals, but women who are returning from a career break may find them particularly helpful in adjusting to their return to the workforce. 

Lucy Becque, HR Director at Coventry Building society also highlighted that "It is also important as women we put ourselves forward for professional development and career progression opportunities as well as having someone champion our cause."

The Robert Walters Empowering Women in the Workplace event featured a panel including Anna Barsby - Chief Information Officer - Halfords, Francesca McDonagh - Head of Retail Banking & Wealth Management UK and Europe, HSBC Bank plc, Helen Miles - Group CommercialDirector, Severn Trent Water Plc, Liz McKenzie - Chief Operating Officer, The Wesleyan, and Lucy Becque - HR Director, Coventry Building Society.

Learn how to attract women retuning to the workforce and help fill skills gaps here, or download a copy of the latest whitepaper Attracting and Engaging Women Returning to the Workplace

View a full list of future Empowering Women in the Workplace events here.

Empowering women in the workplace

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