Attract top talent with a returnship

Returnships are a powerful way for forward-thinking companies to attract top talent who have been on a career break for some time and need that little bit of support to reenter the job market.

The power of 2to3days is rooted in the Hood - our community of 28,000 women who are always on hand to give us insights into what forward-thinking companies should be offering to attract top talent.

This year, in partnership with the returnship experts at Inclusivity, we’ve conducted a survey to find out what our women think about returnships. These programmes, which are designed to support people who have been on a career break get back into the job market, have only been around since 2014 and last year the total number available stood at just 50.

Despite returnships still being in their early stages and relatively unknown in the wider business community, over 300 of our women shared their views between the beginning of December 2018 and the end of January 2019 and the baseline conclusion is that returnships are definitely in demand - assuming they can meet certain key criteria.

Who answered the survey

31% of respondents have 16+ years’ experience.

We know that our candidates reflect a high calibre of professional woman and the survey results confirmed this. Almost three quarters (73%) of respondents had reached a level of middle management and above before going on a career break, with almost a third (31%) having 16+ years of experience.

These respondents represent a huge range of industries - including HR and recruitment, PR and marketing, financial services, legal, retail and education - and are based across the UK. Almost 3 out of 4 (74%) are currently on a career break, with the length of that break being quite varied: 34% have been on a break for 0-2 years, 30% for 3-5 years, 27% for 6-10 and 10% for 11+ years.

Why they left and what they want now

Reasons for a career break include redundancy, childcare costs and not being given the flexibility they need.

There are lots of different reasons why our women leave their careers or take a career break. The survey brought up a wide variety but by far the most common was needing more flexibility because of motherhood and not getting this from their employer, so being forced to leave - 36% cited this reason.

Others included:

  • Being made redundant 14%
  • Changes in their partner’s role that made it no longer feasible for both of them to work 13%
  • The cost of childcare 11%
  • Becoming unwell and not being able to work any longer 4%

More than half (52%) of the 2to3days women who responded to the survey are simply looking for a job that enables them to pursue their career when they are ready. However 43% are either seeking a middle management position or actively want to lead a team and progress as far as they possibly can.

How our women feel about Returnships

Almost half of our women think returnships are a good thing but 20% think they’re too selective in terms of functional area.

This survey was specifically aimed at finding out more about what women think about returnships and whether there’s a need for more of them. The overall results were mixed. On the one hand, almost half (48%) felt that in general returnships are a good thing for companies to do. However, 20% believe they are too selective in terms of the functional area they’re geared for.

That said, an enormous 78% of respondents were interested in going on a returnship programme, with only 6% not wanting to take part and the rest being unsure. But interestingly almost a third (32%) were concerned that these programmes are a way for companies to be ‘seen’ to be promoting women’s careers in order to tick a CSR box.

Those who were interested in a returnship programme were motivated by a range of factors. But the primary one (46%) was the opportunity to get great experience with the prospect of being able to continue their career with a company they want to work for. A further 27% had tried applying for roles without success so were hoping that a returnship programme would enable them to restart their career.

Other motivators included getting experience that looks good on a CV without having to commit to a job, gaining the confidence needed to re-enter the workplace, and changing careers at a time when they can’t commit to a fulltime job.

What our women want from returnships

87% of respondents rate job training as an important part of a returnship programme.

With the opinion on returnships one of positivity for the most part, we wanted to know more about what women in the 2to3days hood wanted from these programmes.

The front runner was job training with 87% saying this was important to them. Next came mentorship with 69%, then networking opportunities (59%), long term career advice (54%), one-to-one coaching (53%), workshops (42%), a buddy system with fellow returners (42%) and regular get togethers with fellow returners (38%).

A key requirement for returnships, according to the women who responded to our survey, is a degree of flexibility. 63% would only consider four days a week or less, 29% would be happy to work full time but only with genuine flexibility, and just 9% would consider working a standard full time week.

Returnships are particularly appealing if they offer benefits in addition to a fair rate of remuneration. Most important is holiday entitlement, which 84% would like to see. This was followed by pension contributions (67%), private healthcare (43%) and emergency childcare (37%)

How to encourage more women into returnships


If so many women are keen to take part in a returnship programme, why aren’t more doing so? The reality is that there are still many barriers in place that make it difficult or even impossible for them to do so.

A lack of flexibility is the biggest issue with 54% of our respondents saying that the time requirements are too high. Interestingly the second biggest issue was actually finding a returnship to go on, suggesting that there is huge potential for companies to tap into this way of recruiting top talent.

Other barriers to going on a returnship programme included:

  • Childcare (37%)

  • Excessive commute (28%)

  • Lack of confidence (21%)

  • Uncertainty about getting a job at the end (21%)

Our women were willing to consider an alternative to a returnship programme though, in the form of supportive hire. This is where a returner is hired to a permanent position and given coaching support as part of the transition back into work. 88% of respondents said they’d be interested in this option with only 4% saying no and the rest being unsure.

In conclusion, it is clear that returnships are attractive in principle. But it’s important that returnships do not become a box ticking exercise and that they are developed with the very people they are trying to attract in mind, especially by offering flexible options that take into account childcare demands.

Where these criteria are met, returnship programmes have huge potential for helping forward-thinking employers tap a previously hidden talent pool. In this way they can improve the quality of their teams, help address diversity issues and the gender pay gap, and so much more.

To find out how we can help you develop and fill your returnship programme with top calibre professional women, get in touch today.