Returning to work? Plan for a smooth start

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Towards the end of last year, the Government Equalities Office announced a fund of £600,000 to help vulnerable women return to work.

This includes providing assistance to women who have experienced issues such as homelessness, domestic abuse and mental health problems.

The government also recognises that women with caring responsibilities are significantly disadvantaged. Caring responsibilities, whether for children, elderly or disabled relatives, are disproportionately borne by women. Around 1.8 million women in the U.K. are economically inactive as a result – more than eight times the number of men in the same position.

Such women find it difficult not only to secure but also to retain jobs. When in work, they become trapped into limiting their hours, are often in low paid jobs, with fewer opportunities for career development.

There are often multiple barriers, which drive, and keep, such women out of the workplace. As such, employers should take a broad approach when putting measures in place to attract and retain these women back to work.

Fortunately, more and more employers are facilitating women back into the labour market and putting measures in place to retain them makes perfect business sense. A happy workforce is a more productive one and often, small measures can go a long way to elicit staff loyalty.

For women returners, I advise:

Do your homework

For women who have been out of the workplace for some time, it is understandable that they may reluctant when applying for roles due to gaps in their CV. To help build confidence, women should research and look out for employers who have an inclusivity statement which welcomes applications from those who have taken career breaks and are open to flexible working.

Prior to applying for roles, it’s advisable that you attend training courses. There are many organisations which offer free courses and a number of local authorities provide IT coursers for example. This will allow the candidate to demonstrate that she has kept abreast of changes in the industry and show a readiness to return to work.

Be honest about your needs

During and after the recruitment process, be honest about what you want from the role. Businesses want to get the best out of their staff so if something as simple as a slightly early start and early finish will allow you to meet your caring needs, most employers will accommodate it.

I always encourage employers to have an open conversation with staff about their needs as only then can they identify the best way assist staff. Employers must appreciate that many employees will feel reluctant to discuss the barriers they face. As such, employers will need to take the lead on such a conversation, perhaps by proactively discussing the family friendly initiatives of offer. Any conversations about such initiatives by the employer should be seen as an opening to discuss your needs.

Make the most of mentoring and training opportunities

Some 79 per cent of women say they would find a mentor helpful during their transition back to working life. Mentoring schemes can help provide a supportive environment for women and enable them to get a better idea of their future career options from women who have had the same experiences as them.

If your employer does not have a ‘buddy’ or mentoring system, there is nothing stopping you from reaching out the others who may have had a similar experience to you and learning from them.

Make connections

It’s understandable to think you’re the only one in this position but do seek out other women in your position. They will understand what you are going through and you can help one another. There are also some great networks out there providing support, advice and data for employees and employers like, such as: Women Returners Professional Network.

Don’t undersell yourself

If you are shortlisted for interview it’s because the employer believes you have something to offer the company. Back yourself!

The most common barrier women face in the workplace can often be the ones they put in front of themselves. Learn to tell your story in the most positive way, ensuring you include all of the skills and experience you have gathered while you’ve been out of paid work.

Homa Wilson is an employment law partner at London solicitors, Hodge Jones & Allen

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