The UK economy has made significant strides in improving the labour market for the needs of women in more recent years. However, one area that remains underutilised is women returning from career breaks.

Women take career breaks for a number of reasons, most commonly to care for family members. For many, taking a career break may be an economically smart decision due to soaring childcare costs, stagnant salaries and government cuts to tax credits and benefits. Returning to work straight after having a child has, for some, been branded as ‘pay-neutral work’, whereby the costs of childcare and travel consume an entire salary and leave many women essentially working for free.

However, the very nature of a career break is temporary and PwC claim that 76% of women on career breaks want to return to work, but face significant barriers in doing so. A primary reason for this is the growing discourse around ‘gaps in CV’, which tends to be extremely negative encouraging job-seekers to come up with an explanation to justify their time off work and assuming a deterioration in skills.

Research has shown that businesses are more likely to hire an under-qualified worker than somebody who has taken a career break. This is not only an injustice to women who have taken career breaks, but an underutilisation by businesses who are refusing experienced and talented female workers.

Having been in employment her entire life, Angela Clark took a four-year career break following a life-changing illness in her immediate family. For Angela, a big part of our identity is our professional status: “I didn’t realise I relied so much on my career to define myself until I suddenly didn’t have one.”

Angela said: “when the worst happened, I started making moves towards returning to work. I upped my volunteering and re-working my skills, but predominantly I tried to rebuild my confidence.”

Angela Clark, Finance Officer at The Women’s Organisation

Angela applied for a Finance Officer position at The Women’s Organisation after encouragement from a friend and began working here two weeks later. Angela stated: “It wasn’t easy, workplace practices don’t come back overnight. However, there were so many positives; regaining financial independence, having such supportive colleagues and feeling like ‘me’ again.”

We think it is time for businesses to step up and take action. PwC claim that addressing the career break penalty experienced by professional women could deliver an annual earnings boost of £1.1 billion and additional economic output of £1.7 billion. Recruiters and employers need to work on addressing the negative bias towards career breaks and rethink how they can measure the skills and ability of job applicants.

Hiring experienced women following a career break can be a fast track for helping businesses to integrate female role models and leaders into their workforce and improve the level of diversity within senior positions. Women returning to work are hungry to get their career back on track and consequently, highly motivated women with talent and experience.

Furthermore, businesses need to increase opportunities for part-time and flexible roles within their workforce. Flexible working practices are not only ethical and employee-friendly but have positive impacts on businesses through increased productivity and motivation.

Talented women are perfectly capable of returning to the demanding corporate environments and readjusting to workplace practices. We need to redefine the discourse around career breaks and transform employer perceptions – only then will we reap the astronomical economic benefits of utilising women returning to work.

Reflecting on her experience as a woman returning to work, Angela said: “stepping away from the work force is sometimes necessary, but not always final. Your skills may go slightly rusty, but they can ALWAYS be reshined!”

Thanks to our Finance Officer, Angela Clark, for contributing to this blog piece.