A new report published by an all-party parliamentary group has recommended that every workplace with 250+ employers should have a policy on returnships to help women resume their careers after an extended break.
While it is encouraging that larger businesses are being urged to consider the merits of a returnship programme, the PR industry is arguably a sector which should take particular note of the recommendations. While there is no shortage of women in PR, it is well known that the numbers diminish up the corporate ladder with many women, typically in their thirties, leaving the industry to have children. By board level, the number of men outweigh their female counterparts.
Yet despite being keen to return to the industry, many women fail to do so in any meaningful way. A real or perceived lack of flexibility and a shortage of senior female role models may be two of the obstacles.
A large gap on a CV may be a further stumbling block but employers who are reticent about hiring candidates who have been out of the workplace for a considerable time period would do well to remember that these women will return to the workforce with renewed enthusiasm, maturity and a sense of perspective. PR professionals also have an advantage in that their skills do not become outdated unlike their counterparts in other sectors such as finance and certain areas of medicine.
Furthermore, remote working should be viable for most PRs. As a returner myself, I am fortunate to have been given a large degree of autonomy by Coast Communications, the agency I work with. At the same time, Coast appreciate that hours worked at home are productive partly because I am not sidetracked by team banter and other office distractions. At the same, I am always prepared to attend client meetigns and have regular contact with clients.
Since many PR agencies are SMEs, introducing a formal returnship policy as advocated by the parliamentary report may not feasible. Nevertheless, small steps can be taken to help women who need to balance work with the demands of family life. For example, as well as offering a reasonable degree of flexibility, a mentorship scheme can help women on their return. After a long break, it can be daunting to re-enter the corporate world and the advice and support of a mentor can be invaluable in the early stages.
Of course, embracing returners makes good business sense. Employers who make a pragmatic decision to use more experienced employees who may be available for less time but also for less cost, will reap the rewards. Those employers who fail to see the advantages of using returners are the ones missing out on a huge talent pool.
This article was first published in the CIPR"s Influence newsletter.