Post by Natalie Desty, founder and director – STEM Returners
In June, I was very proud to launch the third STEM Returners Index, giving us another window into the challenges STEM professionals have when trying to return to the industry they love after a career break.
While the actual results of the survey may have changed slightly over the years, the reality has not changed – age, gender, and perceived lack of experience are still preventing engineers from returning to industry after a career break.
This bias is putting a strangle hold on the industry when it comes to improving inclusion and diversity and not supporting an industry to fill a skills gap that is getting wider each year.
STEM professionals who have had a career break are talented, educated and dedicated people, but they are still finding incredibly difficult to get a job – 66% of the Index’ participants said they were finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult. Nearly half (46%) of participants said they felt bias because of a lack of recent experience.
It was particularly disappointing to see that nearly a third (29%) of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to 7% of men, and despite 39% of females wanting to return to work due to children now being of school age (vs 8% of males), 40% of females still feel childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning due to lack of flexibility offered by employers.
Why is it that being a primary carer penalises you from also pursuing a career?
There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills, but this just isn’t true. Many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, are able to refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that actually benefit their employers.
STEM organisations are clearly missing a major opportunity to get highly skilled people back into the industry.
This year, we had more than 1,000 respondents to our survey, the most we’ve ever had. I am very grateful to each individual for taking the time to tell us about their experiences. This demonstrates the number of returners there are and the scale of the issue.
I’m really proud that we continue to work with some leading engineering and STEM organisations to help share the message that a gap on your CV should not put you at the bottom of the pile, but more needs to be done to change a culture that still views career breaks negatively instead of a completely normal part of many people’s working life.
We need more STEM organisations, industry leaders and hiring managers to take note and think more broadly about how they access this talent pool. We should not stop until we’ve created a level playing field for returners, put an end to unconscious bias in recruitment processes, and removed the hidden barriers returners face today.
You can read our full STEM Returners INDEX report here The STEM Returners Index 2022 – STEM Returners