WHY WOMEN TECH RETURNERS SHOULD BE YOUR NEXT HIRE
BY ISOBEL DE ROZARIEUX
The tech industry is facing a major challenge: by 2025, the UK will need three million more skilled workers in technology and the US will require 13 million more. University graduates alone cannot meet this demand, making it essential that we build out alternative routes into tech for women, and retain existing talent. However, current statistics indicate that women in tech are dropping out of the industry at an alarming rate, with 50% leaving by age 35.
“Bro-Culture”, caring responsibilities, and career breaks are all significant contributors to the attrition of women in the tech workplace. In the UK alone, 1.5 million women are out of paid employment due to caring responsibilities, while 3.6 million US women with bachelor’s degrees or higher are out of the labour force.
It’s not all bad news though, with 76% of professional women on career breaks wanting to return to work at some point, encouraging “tech returners” to return to work or upskill in tech will help fill the tech talent shortage. Understanding how to attract and support tech returners is a great starting point. We’ve outlined some key insights and actions below so you can make tech returners your next hire.
BUT FIRST, WHAT IS A TECH RETURNER?
Tech returners are people who have previous work experience in a technology role but have taken an extended career break. They may be economically inactive or working in lower-paying, temporary, or part-time jobs. Although returners to the tech industry may be men or women, the majority of them are women, as they tend to take on more family care responsibilities.
Beyond addressing the global tech skills shortage, supporting tech returners can provide further value to companies and the industry as a whole. Here are our top three reasons to support tech returners.
THREE REASONS WE NEED TO SUPPORT TECH RETURNERS
#1: Progress more women into leadership
Women’s representation across senior leadership in the tech industry is shockingly low, with only ~9% of C-suite tech leaders being women. One cause of the lack of diversity in top tech positions is career breaks, with almost one in five of our community considering it a key reason why women’s careers progress slower than men’s.
By supporting women tech returners, we can increase the number of women in the leadership pipeline. Research has shown that 1 in 4 women on a career break possess management skills, meaning they are likely to progress into leadership roles quicker than their graduate colleagues.
Increasing women in leadership is not just a moral imperative, it can also provide a variety of tangible benefits. For example, having more gender diversity on executive teams can improve financial performance. And, reducing the gender pay gap can improve customer perceptions towards a company.
#2: Introduce diversity of gender, age and skillset into your teams
With women making up only ~26% of the tech workforce– the industry has a diversity problem that’s holding it back from reaching its full potential. Diversity is essential for a thriving business; extensive research has demonstrated a variety of benefits from improved decision-making to fostering innovation. By promoting inclusion, companies can create a more equitable industry while enhancing their business outcomes.
Bringing a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table, tech returners can also contribute to greater age diversity in tech teams. In a sector that has suffered from an ageism problem, this can be a valuable way to bring more diverse perspectives to the workforce. In fact, the variety of life experiences that women tech returners bring with them, whether they’ve been on a career break or working in another field, can be a fantastic way to promote diverse thinking within tech teams.
#3: Promote economic growth
Human capital is one of the main factors driving economic growth. McKinsey estimates that encouraging women’s participation in the labour market could add as much as £150 billion pounds to the UK economy. This is due to a combination of both increased company output and women having greater spending power, particularly if they are able to progress to leadership roles.
Last year, the UK tech industry reached a valuation of $1 trillion, a feat only previously achieved by the US and China. The sector is expected to continue growing, as whilst accounting for only 7.7% of the UK economy in 2018, is predicted to represent 19% of the entire UK economy by 2030. This is great for businesses in the sector as a larger market size can increase the demand for goods and services, leading to higher company revenues. However, this growth can only be achieved by ensuring a consistent supply of high-calibre talent. Retaining experienced workers within the industry is essential to enabling growth and remaining competitive in the national and international marketplace.
THREE TIPS FOR HIRING TECH RETURNERS
It’s important to understand the unique needs and strengths of these talented women to ensure a successful recruitment process. Here are our top three tips for hiring tech returners.
#1: Support returner programmes
Nearly three-quarters of women on a career break want to return through a supportive programme that helps them reintegrate into the workplace. These “tech returner programs” can vary in length, typically lasting between 10 weeks to six months, and provide structured support and training to rebuild workplace confidence and ease the transition back to work.
When we asked our community what they look for when applying to jobs, flexible working and career progression opportunities were highlighted as important considerations. Incorporating these elements into returner programs could not only help ensure that you attract women but also retain them during this transitional moment of their careers.
Hiring through a programme like Code First Girls also offers women who have been out of the workforce the opportunity to refresh their knowledge and reskill around other commitments, making it a flexible and accessible option.
#2: Address bias in hiring
23% of women cite negative perceptions of CV gaps as a barrier to re-entering the workforce. Unfortunately, they have cause for concern as decision-makers are often found to discriminate against applicants with gaps in their resumes. In fact, research has shown that hiring managers are found to treat CV gaps less favourably and a US study found that managers favour less qualified candidates over one who has been out of work for longer than six months.
This bias leads to women taking jobs that they’re often over-qualified for, leading to underemployment and an average earning penalty of 2% for each year out of employment. In an industry that struggles to find suitable talent, employers must address this bias in recruitment to ensure that returning professional women work at their full potential.
To create a fairer recruitment process for tech returners, employers should consider implementing bias training for hiring managers and using standardised interview questions. Making recruiters aware of the benefits of tech returners and looking at the number of years of experience rather than the dates of employment can also help ensure a fairer hiring process. Additionally, companies could consider implementing enhanced parental leave policies to help experienced professionals return to work. For more best practices regarding hiring, check out our recent D&I for Tech Leaders report.
#3: Provide flexible work arrangements
60% of women returning to work find work-life balance to be the biggest barrier, making flexible working arrangements crucial for tech returners. Our research shows that the tech sector is well positioned to support this, with 64% of women drawn to a career in technology because of the opportunities for flexible working.
During the pandemic, we saw a rise in the popularity of remote working and for many companies, this is a beneficial policy that has remained in place. To attract tech returners it’s essential that employers advertise these options in job descriptions. Ensuring that flexible working options, whether that is remote working, shifted hours or job-sharing options, are available to higher-level positions is also an important factor in attracting returner talent.
Encouraging and supporting tech returners is crucial for addressing the significant shortage of skilled tech workers. By encouraging experienced women to re-enter the workforce, we can address the industry’s diversity problem, improve business outcomes, and add significant value to the economy. To successfully recruit and retain tech returners, companies should offer supportive programs, address bias in hiring, and provide flexible work arrangements. To understand how we can help your team hire tech returners, get in touch here.