Training and Development

New global initiatives set to bring female techies back to work

At the beginning of March, techUK launched its ‘Returner’s Hub’, in association with FDM Group. The programme has the sole purpose of providing women and men who have taken career breaks with the skills, support and opportunities they need to return to the world of tech.

The initiative is not unique. With an estimated two million women currently economically inactive and 76% of professional women [PDF] currently on career breaks wanting to return to employment; organisations across the globe have already seen the benefits of tapping into this pool of female talent to bridge the exploding digital skills gap.

Deloitte currently runs a ‘Return to Work’ programme in the UK and Australia, providing applicants with a 20 week course designed to ‘refresh your knowledge and skills and boost your workplace confidence’.

In the US, IBM’s tech re-entry programme offers a ‘challenging 12-week internship’ for experienced female technologists who have been out of work and PayPal has created its own 18-week ‘recharge’ initiative for ‘relaunching women back into the workforce after a career break’. 

FDM Group, the IT service provider which partnered with techUK for the launch, also runs a dedicated returners programmes. The FDM Getting Back to Business Programme facilitates re-entry into the world of tech by providing a learning and development course for those seeking employment opportunities.

Accenture, CA Technologies and Sage don’t offer applicants a specific returners programme but are accepting job applications from those looking to get back into employment after a career break.    

Shelia Flavell, COO of the FDM Group and one of the speakers at the launch, highlighted the obvious demand for such programmes, commenting that theirs alone had received over 2,000 applications since its inception.

Previously, resources for this section of the job market were either difficult to find or simply didn’t exist. Training, tools and networking are all key to returners and these fundamentals provided the basis for techUK’s initiative. The Returner’s Hub works by centralising these resources and the website.

With an estimated shortfall of 754,000 digital workers in the UK alone between 2013 and 2017, the need for these programmes is now glaringly obvious. The most common discussions surrounding gender in tech sector focus on what we can do to inspire more women into a field where currently they hold only 17% of technical jobs. Less than 12% of them are in leadership roles, only 18% of technology founders are women and a measly 6% of them are working as software engineers. Getting them through the door is an important first step but until recently, very few companies had given a thought to what needs to be done to keep them working there.

Statistically, women still take on most of the burden associated with childcare and other caring commitments and as a result, they take career breaks at a disproportionate rate to their male counterparts. Sadly, two thirds of female professionals who do return to employment end up working in jobs far below their capabilities or only find employment in part-time positions.

Many of these ‘returner’ programmes place an emphasis on motherhood as the reasoning behind the majority of women having taken career breaks. #techmums has the duel purpose of teaching technophobic mothers the skills and knowledge they need to embark on a career in the fastest growing jobs market in the world and updating others on technical developments that may have bypassed them while they were on career breaks.

For most women, the availability and the costs of childcare are still major roadblocks on the journey to returning to work. Parental leave is also unfavourably balanced in favour of maternity rather than paternity leave and employers still don’t offer enough flexibility in terms of working hours or location. The government’s most recent budget promised more money for childcare initiatives but whether this translates into meaningful change will remain to be seen.

The organisation Digital Mums is among those that has been working to tackle these issues. They offer social media training courses to help provide mothers with flexible working hours and a job that can be done from home.

So, what can we do to better support the women, and men, looking to return to the technology industry? Jacqueline de Rojas, the President of techUK, took an unapologetic stance at the Returner’s Hub launch, repeatedly asking us “Why are we waiting for someone else to fix it? No one is coming, this is something we have to do for ourselves.”

And she’s not wrong. As it fell to us to engage in the conversations that created the initiatives currently inspiring girls and women to study STEM subjects and embark on a career in technology, we must now continue the discussion and play a part in helping women return to the world of tech.


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Charlotte Trueman

Charlotte is Staff Writer at IDG Connect. She is particularly interested in the impact technology will have on the future of work and promoting gender diversity throughout the tech industry.

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