Women returners: the solution to STEM diversity challenges?

by Back To Work Connect December 19, 2022 No comments Blog

Returning to work following a career break can be a daunting experience for anyone. More support is needed to assist women re-entering the workplace.


Refreshing resumes, relearning or readjusting to processes, reforming relationships — it can all weigh heavily on our physical and mental health. But imagine, in addition to this, you’re also presented with misconceptions, conscious and unconscious bias and stigma – all based on a gap in your CV.  

Unfortunately, this is the stark reality for many women returning to the STEM workforce today.

STEM skills shortage

There is a talent and diversity gap in the STEM industry, with employers crying out for highly-skilled, diverse talent. It’s a candidate-driven market for sure. However, unfortunately, for women returners, it’s not as simple as filling out an application form. 

We’ve heard far too many stories of highly qualified and skilled women professionals locked out of roles and dismissed or overlooked during the initial screening process. In fact, according to the 2021 STEM Returners Index, 23% of women surveyed said they had personally experienced bias in the recruitment process due to their gender, compared to 8% of men. 

According to the 2021 STEM Returners Index, 23% of women surveyed said they had personally experienced bias in the recruitment process due to their gender, compared to 8% of men. 

The career break “penalty”

Women returning to work can face a ‘career break penalty” and be labelled as “risky candidates” by employers and recruiters. There is a perception that returners require special attention or hand-holding or that a career break automatically deteriorates skills. But the reality is that many women on a career break stay informed of what’s happening in their industry and often develop new transferable skills that bring value and a fresh perspective to organisations. 

Calling for change 

We need to do things differently to address the gender imbalance within STEM and challenge biased methods that exclude or disadvantage women returners. 

We must call on organisations to establish inclusive recruitment processes, encourage employers to view CV “gaps” differently and increase the percentage of women returners in mid-senior level STEM positions.

At Back to Work Connect, our mission is to empower and support women ready to renter the workforce. Learn more about our work at backtoworkconnect.ie