Learning from Return with Resilience

The People Portfolio recently collaborated with HRC Recruitment and Mind & Mission Ltd to deliver a Scottish Government funded Women Returner’s programme. The overall aim of the Government’s funding was to address gender inequality in the workplace and build on their commitment to reducing the gender pay gap.

Our project, called Return with Resilience, focused on women over 50 (or those transitioning through the menopause) who had had a career break of at least 6 months and were now looking to return to work.

This is a group in particular need of support.

A recent article by The Centre for Better Aging states, “It is clear barriers to employment for older workers were an issue before the pandemic but have been exacerbated by the economic fallout of COVID-19. Before the pandemic there were already around 824,000 people age 50-64 in the UK who were not working but would like to be. This number is rising and will continue to unless action is taken to protect older workers. Over 50s need targeted, individualised back-to-work support to ensure they don’t face an uncertain financial future.”  

We designed a supportive, interactive programme which combined group employability workshops with individual mental fitness coaching which supported two groups of 6 women in February and March.

Attracting participants to take part was a surprising initial key challenge in delivering the project.  Although we knew the programme had great content and skilled facilitators, as well as being free for the participants, we had to work hard to promote it and attract relevant delegates. 

We learned that many of these women were not active on the usual recruitment channels – i.e. job boards, LinkedIn etc., – so we had to use a range of social media channels to reach them. We also had a one-to-one call with each of them to answer any questions and build trust before having a launch call where wider introductions were made, and technical issues dealt with in a safe space. 

As we began to talk to the women, we learned that another challenge in recruiting delegates had been due to a deep-rooted lack of confidence.  Many talked about needing to really dig deep in order to take the initial leap and apply, trusting us with their journey. 

The length of the career break can often impact this and those with longer career breaks can feel so far removed from the workplace that they just don’t know if they will ever fit back into the world of work, let alone knowing where to start. 

The feedback received from the participants was overwhelmingly positive and demonstrated how very much needed support like this is –

  • “With an undeniably long career break, the programme helped me identify key skills and more importantly, transferrable skills and I have updated my CV accordingly.”
  • “Attending the workshop has given me a fresh perspective on my Job searches, I’m much more proactive now and actively seeking roles in areas that interest me.”
  • “Participating in this group gave me confidence I could hold my own space back in business.”                                                                                                                              
  • “This course has been highly beneficial to me as have been away from Financial Services for 5 years. It made me realise that I still have a lot to offer to an employer in terms of skills and experience despite being nearly 60! In fact, it did what it said on the tin as I now have a job and am so looking forward to it.”

Many of the women we worked with had caring responsibilities too, from children to parents and partners.  They had become used to putting others before themselves, and the pandemic exacerbated this. The majority of the women we worked with are now looking for either part time work or some flexibility as they go back to work. 

So, if employers want to attract this demographic of applicant, something other than the traditional 9 – 5 working pattern may be what’s needed, flexibility is key. A possible unplanned benefit of the COVID pandemic is that there are currently many more conversations happening about flexible and hybrid working as people return to the workplace. 

We very much hope that this can benefit career break returners and will encourage more companies to support this demographic.