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Rethinking financial recruitment with returnships

Recruiting women into senior positions has become an urgent priority for financial services companies in recent years.

The industry is notoriously lacking in women at the top, which means these businesses are struggling with the gender pay gap. Could returnship programmes offer the solution and help women who have taken a career break to re-enter the workforce, bringing with them a wealth of skills and experience?

Recently our chief executive, Juliet Turnbull, was quoted in an article by Financial News London. She talked about how, in her experience, HR departments in financial services firms avoid taking the time to consider those who have taken a career gap. Instead they favour candidates with unbroken track records who represent the safer option.

“We are hardwired to read CVs from the top down,” Juliet told journalist Becky Pritchard. “HR departments dismiss too many great candidates by not reading their CVs properly. Recruitment teams are under a huge amount of pressure and I hear a lot of companies say: ‘Well, I will hire them if they are proven.’”

The scope of the recruitment problem

The article began by setting out the very real issues facing the financial services industry when it comes to gender diversity and inclusion. It quoted a report from think tank New Financial, which came out in March and concluded that companies need an increase of 12% in the number of women holding senior positions.

To tackle this issue, over 330 financial services companies have signed the Women in Finance Charter. But in order to make real headway towards a solution, they need to think differently about the way they recruit women.

Because the women are out there - but many of them have been or are on a career break. In fact, according to a PWC report quoted in the article, there are 550,000 professional women in the UK who, thanks to caring commitments, have stepped off the career ladder. Three quarters of those are keen to get back to work but current talent acquisition methods don’t serve their needs.

Returnships: a positive step

One answer lies in returnship programmes. These give people who have had a career break a chance to brush up on their skills in a real life work situation, to make contacts and get a foot in the door. They are also a great opportunity for employers to assess candidates who they may then wish to employ on an ongoing basis.

Returnships can be hugely successful in helping companies address diversity issues. For example, pensions consultancy Redington reduced their gender pay gap from 21.6% to 0.2% in one year thanks to their returnship programme.

The article did highlight the fact that some criticise returnship programmes for being ‘tick box exercises’ that don’t actually lead to anything. Pritchard quoted Stepahnie Dillon, managing director at Inclusivity Partners, who said: “A lot of returners feel that if there are no jobs at the end of it, there is no point in it… I do understand that but they are still in a stronger position.”

And there are places where jobs are almost guaranteed. The returnship programme at JPMorgan has been running since 2015 and 80% of the women returners finish with a job for the company. Laetitia Craig, an executive director within the recruitment team, was quoted as saying: “We look at those candidates not as interns but as potential full-time hires.”

Pushing the returner agenda forward

The Financial News London article concluded that although returnships can be valuable, right now they are still being rolled out on too small a scale to make a big enough impact.

And we agree. The financial services industry needs to rethink recruitment. Playing it safe by hiring only those who have no gaps in their CV is short-sighted. Those companies who see not only the value of the hidden talent pool of mothers but also take proactive steps to encourage them back into the workforce through returnship programmes are the ones who will succeed in the future.

That’s why we advertise returnship programmes on the 2to3days website and also work closely with Inclusivity Partnerships to help our clients build returnship programmes that get results. We have worked with the likes of Barclays, Shell, Virgin Money, Lloyds Banking Group and the Home Office, all of whom have been thrilled with the calibre of the candidates that have applied via 2to3days.

If your company would like to find out more, visit the returnships page or get in touch to speak to one of the team.

And if you're looking out for your ideal job, make sure you're registered with 2to3days.