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Time away from work hits women’s confidence twice as hard as men

Story by
Sarah Rice, Editor and Director, The HR World

Time away from work hits women's confidence

Women are twice as likely to lose confidence having spent time away from the office than men, according to a new report.

Vodafone UK’s report ‘Lost Connections: Supporting Returners into the workplace in 2021 and beyond,’ also states women are more likely to face bigger challenges around caring responsibilities and meeting the cost of childcare.

The company has published the report to raise awareness of why employers need to go further to support the millions of people returning to work after an extended period away.

The company claims the findings may also have implications for the millions of furloughed workers and those returning to the workplace after over a year of remote working.<

The report includes polling from Survation of more than 1,000 people who had returned to work after an absence of a year or more and shows:

  • Over a third (37%) of those returning to the workplace after a year or more away experience a loss of confidence in their own ability. This loss of confidence is almost twice as prevalent for women as for men, with 42% of women lacking confidence in their own ability compared to 24% of men
  • Just under a third (31%) of women returners said they found it hard to reacclimatise to working life following such a long break, compared to 25% of men
  • 71% of returners said they felt cut off from the world of work during their time away from it, with younger workers aged 18-24 particularly impacted (74%, compared to 65% of those aged 45-64)

Helen Lamprell, general counsel and external affairs director Vodafone UK, said: “As a society, we can and must do more to make it easier for people who have taken a career break to re-enter the workplace, once they are ready.

“Supporting returners helps organisations bridge skills shortages and improve retention and diversity, while supporting those individuals and the wider economy. At Vodafone, we recognise the value that returners bring and initiatives like our ReConnect programme help support talented individuals back into work.

“As workplaces continue to adapt and evolve, it is the responsibility of employers to support returners both while they are away and once they return.”

While the polling explored the views of people who may have taken time out of work before the pandemic, Vodafone says it is relevant for the millions of people across the UK who have been out of an office environment or furloughed during COVID-19.

The research also finds that women returning after a career break face bigger challenges than men in balancing work with caring responsibilities and meeting the cost of childcare:

  • Balancing work with caring responsibilities was a challenge for 41% of returners, and was felt more keenly by women (45%) than men (30%)
  • 40% of all returners said the cost of childcare was a challenge.  This was cited by 46% of women returners, compared to 23% of men

The report highlights the need to support returners, and especially female returners who have the potential to contribute over £1 billion to the UK economy, and to make sure the challenges they face are properly addressed.

The report argues that employers and the government need to provide greater support to encourage people who may have taken a career break back into the workforce and calls for the Government to allocate part of the £2.5bn National Skills Fund to help returners develop the appropriate skills.

It also suggests employers are open-minded about gaps in individuals’ CVs during the recruitment process and provide additional support systems for returners..

Laura Farris MP, co-chair of the Women and Work APPG, said: “It’s clear that supporting people who have taken a career break, particularly women, back into work can deliver significant economic benefits as well as improve an organisation’s retention rate and diversity.

“This agenda is even more pressing now given the economic impact of COVID-19 and the number of people who have been out of an office environment or furloughed over the last year.”

Julianne Miles MBE, CEO, Women Returners, said: “The pressures of the pandemic have caused 2.3 million women in the USA, particularly working mothers, to leave the workforce.

“In the UK, women who have taken a career break due to COVID-related factors will swell the ranks of talented returners who face major hurdles when they want to resume their careers.

“Bringing this talent back into suitable employment will require a united effort from employers, Government and support organisations. So we welcome this report and particularly the recommendations for employers to be more open minded in recruitment and the UK Government to ringfence funding for returners.”

Professor Rosie Campbell, director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, said: “Right now, it is more important than ever to ensure that women returning to work can do so with confidence that they will be supported in inclusive workplaces.

“The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and remedying this will be essential to economic recovery.”



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