Gaps In the Resume, But Not In Talent—Reasons to Embrace Women Returning to the Workforce

August 3, 2017

They’re talented, ambitious, and eager to contribute. Yet, so many hiring managers and companies are refusing to take notice. I’m referring to the estimated 1.5 million women with degrees who have left the workforce and now wish to return. These women off-ramped from their careers for a variety of reasons (to start a family, to care for an elderly parent, for personal health reasons) but all face the same struggle: how to jump back in.

That’s why I founded reacHIRE, a company that gives Fortune 500 businesses access to exceptional and experienced women who are looking to re-enter the corporate world in a big way.

Often, hiring managers are concerned that returning women aren’t capable. They assume their skills are out-of-date, or they’ll be unable to adapt to new environments, or they can’t fully commit to the job and its hours. But if my experience with reacHIRE has taught me anything, it’s that these women have a lot to contribute—and the smart companies that take advantage will see remarkable dividends.

Returning women bring with them a depth of professional and life experience, and often make stellar employees

I truly believe that returning women, or “returners,” are some of the most adaptable employees around. They're thrilled to be back in the game and their tendency is not to be hung up on titles and reporting relationships. Instead, they’re focused on bringing what I call  +1 value—they go beyond their job description in order to bring their management and life skills to their teams.

In a recent “returnship” program we ran for Fidelity Investments, a few of our women took the initiative to pursue additional certifications on their own. One of those women had previous experience in finance and education, and she was interested in combining them together. She took it upon herself to become a Certified ScrumMaster—and ended up bringing incredible value to her company.

Another success story involves a woman who was placed in a marketing role at Boston Scientific. After just three months, she came up with the idea for her department to introduce a mindfulness program. She pitched it to senior leadership; within weeks, it was rolled out company-wide.

We all have to remember that a talented accountant will continue to be just that, as with a great project manager, business analyst, etc. Yes, they may need to learn about cloud storage or social media or new communication channels, but these women already have substantive characteristics—strategic chops, alacrity, work ethic. With the right support, these highly qualified women can be brought up to speed and quickly begin to contribute.

Hiring returners gives companies a leg up on their competition by promoting a more diverse workplace—and increasing the bottom line

Here’s the kicker— companies with higher female representation in top management outperform those that don’t by delivering 34% greater returns to shareholders. The problem is most women take time off from their careers right as they begin an upward trajectory, typically at the mid-manager level. That’s why, according to a study by Mckinsey & Company, women hold 46% of all entry-level jobs, but along the career ladder to upper management and the C-suite, their representation shrinks to just 19% at the ranks of top leadership.

Strategies to retain and advance women past the mid-manager level are few and far between, and businesses are struggling to increase the number of women in senior leadership roles. That’s where women returners come in. We ought to be investing in these women, providing them with the right training and re-tooling to cultivate a rare and coveted diversity at the highest levels of leadership. With the right attitude, it’s all within your company’s reach.

The advantage of more women in the workforce at all ages is distinct and documented—both societally and economically. Companies with diverse leadership are 15% more likely to outperform. Teams with women deliver better results by raising the group's collective intelligence, providing fresh, smart leadership views. Also, today an “older worker” is categorized as 40+. When you consider the mean age of a woman having her first child is 26.3, most female “older workers” are mothers of 13 year-olds or younger. In order to avoid an employee base made up of only men and Millennial women, businesses need to create opportunities for returning women.

Corporate America needs to mine career gaps, not look past them. Returning women are motivated to succeed—they are looking to be challenged and drive value for an organization. Evidence has shown that they raise the collective intelligence on teams and contribute financially to the bottom line. A smart company will work to create progressive, non-linear career paths for these women in order to take full advantage of all they have to offer.

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