Female returners likely to work below potential

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Earnings are seriously impacted when women return to work after a break, PwC research finds

Around 249,000 female professionals currently on a career break are likely to enter lower-skilled roles when they return to work, seriously impacting their earnings, according to research published by PwC, in conjunction with Women Returners and 30% Club.

The researchers estimated 427,000 UK female professionals are currently on a career break and likely to return to the workforce in the future. Of these, two-thirds (65%) could be working below their potential when they return to the workforce.

The data suggests that returning professionals lose out on £1.1 billion of earnings annually from the career break penalty, equivalent to £4,000 for each woman. The multiplier effect from the increased earnings and spending power of these women (beyond the increase in their incomes) could drive a further increase in output in the UK economy of £1.7 billion.

Laura Hinton, executive board member and head of people at PwC, explained the business benefits of getting professional women back into appropriate roles. “The business and economic arguments for getting more women back into high quality work following a career break are compelling,” she said. “Our research shows the UK economy could see a £1.7 billion boost, women will get higher earnings and businesses will benefit from a stronger pipeline of female leaders and more diverse teams. Many women want to return, it is the system that needs to change.”

Julianne Miles, co-founder and director of Women Returners warned of the obstacles women often encounter when trying to return. “A CV gap presents a significant barrier to resuming a successful professional career after a multi-year break,” she said. “Employers often assume a lack of recent experience equates to a loss of the ability to operate at a senior level. Those returners seeking a part-time or flexible role to combine work with family life also struggle to find a suitable professional opportunity.”

Brenda Trenowden, global chair of 30% Club, suggested recruiters should change their attitudes towards returning women. “Recruiters and employers need to do more to reassess how they evaluate a candidate’s potential and work to address the negative bias towards CV gaps,” she said. “Getting more senior women back into the workplace will help businesses build stronger pipelines of potential female leaders and improve the diversity of businesses at senior levels.

Returnships create an effective route back to mid- to senior-level professional roles, and the availability of part-time and flexible opportunities in professional roles helps widen the pool of talent businesses can access.”

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