Getting to know the “Returners”
Every year, scores of educated, talented and well-qualified women think about coming back to work after a long hiatus. These “returners” have a wealth of career experience, plenty of impressive credentials and a lot to offer to prospective employers – but they’re often overlooked and under-utilized in a corporate environment that favors young hires with continuous work history.
Women take career breaks for many reasons, but child-rearing is the predominant motivation: figures from Harvard Business Review show that 43 percent of highly qualified women take career breaks to raise little ones. Beyond raising kids, the study found that 24 percent of women left jobs to care for elderly family members. Returners aren’t a small segment of job searchers, either – some figures estimate that 3 million women are currently trying to re-start work after a career hiatus.
Despite time away from the corporate scene, returners are often highly motivated, educated and fully qualified to take on specialized roles. Some businesses are starting to recognize their value, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. The first step is realizing that there are many compelling reasons to hire women coming off of a career break.
Reason #1: Returners often have valuable industry experience
There’s no need to automatically disqualify a candidate if they’ve been out of the industry for a while. It’s increasingly common for women to take a career break even after holding high-level positions – take Jenna Bloomgarden, for example. After serving as the vice president at Merrill Lynch in New York, she took a 13-year break to raise her children. She had to do a bit of creative maneuvering to jump back in, but after a “returnship” she landed a vice president role at Graystone Consulting.
Women positioning themselves to jump back into work often prepare by reading up on industry trends, sharpening their skills through continuing education and building valuable connections. Even with a resume gap these women are fully qualified and more ready than ever to take on challenging roles.
Reason #2: Corporate perspectives are changing
Some of the biggest names in finance, tech, law and engineering are creating “returnships” that cater toward people coming back from career breaks. These paid opportunities can last anywhere from 12 weeks to a year and often result in jobs for those who do well. These programs are often hosted by companies that hire returnship alumni and organizations that have relationships with major employers.
It’ll take time to snuff out the stigma against resume gaps, but forward-thinking companies are doing their part to welcome the returners back with open arms.
Reason #3: Returners want to put their best foot forward
The corporate world is a breeding ground for burnout and stress, and some people struggle to keep up with the changing trends, high standards and tight deadlines. But the returners have been there and done that – and they’re eager to pick up where they left off.
A fresh perspective coupled with a willingness to work hard is invaluable to any employer.
Reason #4: The workforce needs skilled women
Sadly, the gender pay gap is alive and well. Research shows that mothers – a large portion of the returners – face some of the worst wage discrimination: in the US over the past 30 years the pay gap has widened substantially between women with children and those without. Furthermore, the gap gets larger depending on how many kids a woman has. The numbers paint a portrait of hardship no matter where you are on the age scale: young women face potential discrimination for choosing to be mothers and growing their families, while older women contend with career gaps and being sized up against younger candidates.
Even with these challenges, returners are one of the best groups to help address the gender pay gap. Many of these skilled women manage to land in-demand jobs that are well-compensated and offer upward mobility. Imagine how the wage gap might look over time if thousands of these women could return to work successfully every year!
Reason #5: Returners have a mature perspective
Women who have taken breaks to care for others learn highly valuable skills, even if they aren’t toiling away for a paycheck. They learn how to balance various responsibilities and put the needs of others first while running a home. These well-rounded women not only have degrees and years of work experience, they also have perspective – something that can only come with time and a variety of life experiences. While it’s hard to put a dollar figure on perspective, employers stand to benefit from hires who can see the bigger picture and spur on real progress.
Women coming off of career breaks have so much to offer. With changing corporate perspectives and new programs designed to help returners, we hope that women will be empowered to enter the workforce – no matter how long they’ve been away.