A recent KPMG study estimates that 96m skilled women aged between 30 and 54 are on career breaks worldwide, of whom 55m have experience as middle managers or in more senior roles. A separate survey by GfK, showed that eight out of 10 women believed more support was needed for women who wanted to return to work.
If you are have taken a break from work you are certainly not alone as more than 3,500 ICAEW members are currently listed as career breakers. In the accountancy profession, we often see a drop-off of women who go on maternity leave and then do not return or are not championed back into leadership posts.
We need to reverse this trend. At ICAEW we have been thinking a lot about our role as a profession to connect these communities of women back to the world of work.
This is why we have recently launched our ‘Comeback Community’, a forum for members planning to return to work after a career break. It offers a space to connect, collaborate, offer feedback and opinions, share information and ideas and give and get support.
Businesses need to help women plan earlier for when they choose to have a career break and encourage open conversations about job aspirations. This shouldn’t be seen as a binary choice between work and home. Increasingly employers need to take a more flexible approach in supporting women back to work.
This doesn’t just apply to women. The UK introduced Shared Parental Leave in 2015, yet research shows only a tiny percentage of men have used it so far. The infrastructure for flexible working may exist, yet cultural attitudes to gender roles – especially around care-giving persist.
I would urge everyone, particularly those in leadership roles to reflect on the message of International Women’s Day and how we can all ‘be bold for change’. Strong economies need people to return to work, so it’s vital the workplace can produce inclusive environments to help shape it.