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Although many corporate organisations now have an equal gender split at entry level, there is a sharp reduction in female participation at higher management levels (see research). The business case for gender diversity has been proven; now companies are looking for practical steps to improve the reality.
One reason for the leaky pipeline is that many women step out of the workforce at middle or senior manager level, primarily (but not solely) for child or eldercare reasons. The majority intend to return to work when their caring demands reduce, yet these highly-talented returners find the route back into a senior position, with diminished confidence and a CV gap, difficult. As a result many decide to join smaller local companies, to develop their own business ventures or to focus on voluntary activities. This creates a ‘brain drain’ of senior women from the corporate world that has not yet been addressed.
Targeted return-to-work programmes offer a practical solution to attract this group of highly-qualified, experienced and motivated professionals who offer maturity and stability. They can broaden the female talent pipeline at senior levels and reinforce organisational commitment to diversity and non-linear career paths.
In particular, structured ‘returnships’ are an innovative way of bridging the gap and offer an effective transition for both employing organisation and individual. They provide employers with the opportunity to assess participants’ abilities and results before offering permanent roles as well as offering a supportive re-integration into corporate life for the returning women.