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Helping disadvantaged women back into the workplace

Posted on 15th February 2019

Towards the end of last year, the Government Equalities Office announced a fund of £600,000 to help vulnerable women return to work, by providing assistance to those who have experienced issues such as domestic abuse and mental health problems.

The government also recognises that women with caring responsibilities are significantly disadvantaged. Usually, women are disproportionately borne to caring responsibilities, whether for children, elderly or disabled relatives. As a result of this, around 1.8 million women in the U.K. are economically inactive – more than eight times the number of men in the same position.

These women find it difficult not only to secure but also to retain jobs. When in work, they become trapped into limiting their hours, are often in low paid jobs, with fewer opportunities for career development. There are often multiple barriers, which drive, and keep, such women out of the workplace. As such, employers need to take a broad approach when putting measures in place to attract and retain these women back to work.

It is very important that employers understand the importance of helping women back into the workplace. I have laid a few points that could make this process simpler:

1) Ensure your recruitment message is welcoming

Often candidates will have been out of work for years and may be deterred from applying for roles due to gaps in their CV. Employers should tailor their recruitment to invite applications from such candidates. One way to do this is to have an inclusivity statement which welcomes applications from those who have taken career breaks. Ensure this message is reiterated in your corporate literature, including your website – so if flexible working is offered, say so. Some employers are making good use of social media; online videos and testimonials to reinforce this message.

2) Understand the needs of the employee

During and after the recruitment process, ask individuals what they want from the role. Have an open dialogue to understand the barriers the individual faces and listen to their suggestions on how to overcome such barriers. It maybe that all that is required is a slightly early start and early finish to allow the individual to meet her caring needs.

Having an open conversation about their needs will help the company identify the best way assist staff. Employers should appreciate that many employees will feel reluctant to discuss the barriers they face. As such, employees need to take the lead on such conversation, perhaps by proactively discussing family friendly initiatives of offer.

3) Offer flexible working

Flexible working includes home working, part-time working, varying hours as well as job share. Employers should embrace flexible working as it is shown to increase productivity and staff loyalty. In a competitive market, it is also a necessary tool to avoid loss of talent.

4) Provide childcare support

Childcare costs in the U.K. are amongst the highest in the world, this is one of the biggest factors keeping women out of the labour market. Whilst not all employers can offer an on-site crèche, providing such facilities can be of significant benefit to both employees and the employers – as it avoids staff having to leave early for school pick ups.

5) Provide mentoring and training opportunities

Some 79% of women say they would find a mentor helpful during their transition back to working life. Mentoring schemes can help provide a supportive environment for women and enable them to get a better idea of their future career options from women how have had the same experiences as them.

Facilitating women back into the labour market and putting measures in place to retain them makes perfect business sense. A happy workforce is a more productive one and often, small measures can go a long way to elicit staff loyalty.

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