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Women in STEM Q2 2023

How to smooth the return-to-work transition for women

happy businesswoman in a modern office
happy businesswoman in a modern office
iStock / Getty Images Plus / laflor

Julianne Miles

CEO and Co-Founder, Women Returners

Irish employers increasingly recognise that women STEM professionals returning from career breaks are an untapped talent pool. As they explore ways to access, assess and technically upskill returner candidates, it’s important to plan for structured transition support.

In a survey conducted by Women Returners, nearly three-quarters of returners valued support that would help them reintegrate into the workplace.  

Many returners describe the first few months back at work as an emotional rollercoaster. Their professional confidence is often fragile, magnifying imposter syndrome. Pressures can become overwhelming if they set themselves over-reaching targets, aiming to be rapidly 100% up-to-speed at work and to have their home lives functioning like clockwork.  

Return-to-work support team 

Creating a ‘return-to-work support team’ can smooth this rocky transition. For organisations hiring multiple returners, support is best organised by a nominated programme manager. For ad-hoc hires, this task may be taken on by HR or a business leader. 

The line manager is the primary source of support. Providing specialised training to managers who are not used to returner hires is highly recommended. To effectively build the returner’s confidence and skills, managers must provide regular check-in points and constructive feedback, steadily ramp up the workload and flex their support as the returner reintegrates.  

For organisations hiring multiple returners, support is best organised by a nominated programme manager.

Coaching and mentorship for adjustment periods 

Buddies and mentors also play a key role. Appointing a peer ‘buddy’ in the team to answer day-to-day questions is essential, particularly as the world of work has changed so much post-pandemic. A mentor outside of the line management structure can be an additional source of advice, positive encouragement and career support. 

Where possible, providing Career Returners Coaching is a powerful way to normalise the ups-and-downs. Coaching helps with both psychological challenges, such as rebuilding professional self-confidence and tackling fears and doubts. It also helps with practical aspects, such as developing achievable personal and professional objectives and creating a sustainable work-life balance. 

Setting returners up for success 

Creating a supportive return-to-work pathway is a worthwhile investment. It promotes inclusion and increases the likelihood of a happy and successful permanent hire, who brings a wealth of STEM skills, maturity and a fresh perspective. 

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