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Returning to work after a career break

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Economic benefits of hiring professionals back into the workplace

“Addressing the career break penalty for women could boost the UK economy by £1.7 billion”. (2016 research by PwC & Women Returners).

In 2016, research by PwC and Women Returners confirmed the potential economic benefits of addressing the career break penalty for women returning to work after a career break. It noted significantly that there are 427,000 female professionals currently on career break who wish to return to work at some point in the future. This could increase female earnings by £1.1 billion annually which when combined with their increased spending power equates to the increased GDP figure quoted above.

Government research also supports this, reinforced by the 2017 budget announcement that £5m would go towards developing the number of returnships in the UK (high-level, paid, usually project-based internships designed specifically for women returning to work).

What are the benefits to employers?

From an employer perspective, hiring returning professionals back into the workplace has significant benefits. Many organisations struggle to attract and retain senior female talent and this is a way in which they can be more creative and open-minded through broadening how they look to resource key skill-sets.

Our clients, who engage with us to run returner programmes or to support returning individuals they are directly hiring into posts, repeatedly tell us of the multiple benefits of improving gender diversity and having been able to attract strong female role models into key positions.

Additionally these individuals have are very experienced and highly skilled professionals. They have often brought a huge amount of value from their experience both pre and during their career breaks, which may have broadened their perspective and focus. This can lead to valuable and diverse perspectives when it comes to decision-making, problem solving and leading others in organisations.

They are also likely to be highly motivated and be very clear on their reasons for wishing to work.  Whilst there may be a multitude of reasons as to why they took a career break, from parental reasons to elder care or relocation, many of these professionals have kept up their skills during their break through a variety activities including paid and non-paid roles, studying, and maintaining and expanding their professional qualifications.

What are the risks?

Some of the key barriers to women returning to work historically have been due to negative perceptions by employers and recruiters of a CV gap. Highly skilled and highly experienced senior women have often been written off because of a perception around loss of skills and lack of perceived value. Employers have an expectation that new hires need to ‘hit the ground running’ and can be very risk averse to anyone who they believe may require additional support.

How can employers reduce this risk?

Since 2014, we have been supporting organisations to tackle both these negative perceptions internally and to demonstrate the benefits that returning professionals can bring. Through our bespoke return to work consultancy and coaching programmes, we have helped employers to reduce risk by providing a supported route back in for these women allowing them to demonstrate the value they can add, and to fully realise their potential and to reconnect with their professional identities.

We have seen significant growth in the last 3 years in the number of employers offering Returnship opportunities and in proactively promoting roles to the returner community.  Having taken root originally in financial services, we are now working with organisations across multiple sectors including telecoms, construction, professional services, central and local government.

Who are Women Returners?

Women Returners is a consulting, coaching and network organisation specialising in enabling the return to work of professional women after an extended career break. We have led the introduction of returnship programmes into the UK since 2014, partnering with leading organisations including 02, EY, Skanska  & Balfour Beatty to launch returnships and direct hire returner programmes, which create a bridge back to work for this untapped talent pool.

This year, we have seen increased demand for returning professionals with programme and project management skills, and are delighted to have partnered with organisations including Highways England (Major Projects), and National Grid (Lead Project Managers, to launch programmes aimed at experienced professionals who have taken a career break of 2+ years. 




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  1. Jon Broome
    Jon Broome 28 September 2017, 11:20 AM

    Kate, I agree with everything you say here, except ... ... why just 'women' returners. I know men who have taken time out &/or when they have returned been the ones who sacrificed their career for the school run etc while their partner focuses on their career. That might be fine and rational in the relationship, but they perhaps have the additional unstated stigma of somehow being less 'something' (not sure what 'matcho / manly', I guess). Anyway, excluding men from this, which you are by the title, seems a bit sexist.

  2. Joyce DuJour
    Joyce DuJour 07 May 2018, 12:18 AM

    Kate, Is it just me or does it seem to be very difficult for women to fully return to their project management jobs at a high level salary?