How to support women in tech after a career break

By Dr Andrea Johnson, VP Global Business Systems at Workhuman

  • 1 year ago Posted in

For many women, whether it’s taking time off to be a stay-at-home parent, care for a loved one, or for any other personal circumstances, in today’s digital-first world, technology and processes evolve so quickly that they feel ill-equipped to return to work.

Luckily, there are proactive steps that organisations can take to support their female employees, and ensure as smooth a transition as possible. Key to this, are dedicated returnship schemes. Implementing such initiatives is not only vital for promoting gender diversity in tech, it also demonstrates leaders’ commitment to an inclusive workplace culture that embraces different career journeys, creating opportunities for talented people to join the organisation.

Internal support is key

It’s vital that leaders take the time to support women who may struggle to acclimate following a career gap. Doing so will not only improve the employee experience for those returning to work, it will also enhance performance, retention and, consequently, the company’s bottom line. Research by KPMG shows that 75% of female executives across industries have experienced imposter syndrome in their careers, and this is likely compounded by a career break. As a result, solid internal support is vital to allaying feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that could derail their return to work.

One way to achieve this is through dedicated employee resource groups (ERGs). At Workhuman, the ‘Women and Allies’ ERG is hugely instrumental in supporting women return to work – providing them with personal and career development resources. It’s also important to acknowledge the broader external factors that may affect women’s ability to successfully return to work. Workhuman’s ‘Women and Allies’ ERG has led discussions on everything from maternity benefits, to the consequences of Roe vs Wade being overturned in the US. Employers need to consider the wider issues that may be on employees’ minds – such as the current cost-of-living crisis in the UK – and from there provide the most relevant support.

Of course, it’s also crucial for leaders to understand that every employee is a unique individual – and so effective support may look different for each one. Leaders should therefore take the time to actively listen to and understand their individual employees’ needs, and use this to create tailored support wherever possible. This is not only helpful for supporting women returning to work, but also for organisations as a whole. In fact, Workhuman’s research found that taking the time to recognise and check-in with employees frequently leads to increased psychological safety for both men and women.

How returnship programmes can help

One way in which organisations can support women in their return to work is by partnering with dedicated ‘returnship’ programmes. These schemes are specifically designed to equip women with the necessary skills and experience to return to work after a career break. Returnships are and should form part of a multi-channel approach when creating an alternative talent strategy, and they are particularly important in sectors – like tech – where attraction and retention of talent is competitive.

At Workhuman, returnships are a huge focus for getting more women into STEM roles. The main benefit of these schemes is that they force organisations to be proactive and intentional about

getting women back to work. Specifically, organisations should focus on removing as many barriers as possible for women to enable them to succeed, as well as providing a clear path for women to grow within the company.

Organisations can partner with external returnship programmes, such as Women ReBOOT – a programme that supports women with tech sector skills and experience to return to work after a career break. Alternatively, organisations may wish to develop their own approach internally. This option provides an opportunity for employers to create a tailored programme that best suits the needs of their own employees, and can also be implemented alongside other existing programmes within the company.

In this way, employers can ensure they are taking a holistic approach to the entire employee experience – and make sure it is a positive one for all employees. For example, a returnship programme could be run alongside an existing ERG or a reward and recognition programme. The latter is particularly effective – after all, a great way to support women in their return to work, and ensure they feel confident in doing so, is by ensuring they receive frequent recognition for the value they bring to the workplace.

How the ‘new normal’ of work may benefit women

It goes without saying that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on employees, including where and how they work. While this rapid change has been challenging for many, it also presents an opportunity for women returning to work.

Firstly, because of the increase in remote, hybrid, and flexible working, more women are able to even consider coming back to work in the first place – as this flexibility enables them to work around other commitments. Furthermore, women’s support systems – whether that be partners, parents, or friends – now also have increased flexibility, meaning women have the support needed to successfully make the transition back to work. As a result, more and more women are returning to work, so it’s crucial that organisations continue to offer flexible working options wherever possible. This flexibility is not only beneficial to employees’ wellbeing, it actively enables women to continue to advance their careers, thereby ensuring diversity at work.


When employees were asked in a recent global Workhuman survey: “How important is diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) for you in terms of staying at your current organisation?”, 72% said it’s somewhat or very important. And that number is even higher for Gen Z employees (86%) and Black employees (87%). What’s more, according to McKinsey, organisations that are more diverse are simply more successful.

DEI is not just a nice to have – it is a business imperative for leaders wishing to recruit and retain top talent. Organisations that prioritise getting women back into the workplace will not only enable these employees to succeed – they will also ensure strong and diverse teams, and ultimately improve the business bottom line as a result.

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