Equate Scotland supports women back into STEM employment

Our Women Returners Programme is reaching the end of a successful year that has seen over half the 40 participants, looking to return to work this year, secure STEM employment or return to STEM education.

“I’d had ten years in STEM prior to starting a family, but it was a while ago, and I thought I was out-of-date.  I came across Equate and it started to become possible to think about going back.”

Anonymous quotes taken from the wealth of positive participant feedback gathered during the year appear in this article, and a final evaluation report will be available from the end of March.

“I found great support from the women running the programme, making me realise my strengths and improve my professional profile. I finally got a job!”

The women undertook a programme of career development activities to help them become work-ready or highlight areas they need or want to work on over the longer term. The Programme included face-to-face workshops, working through The Open University’s Returning to STEM badged online course, a series of webinars and two career clinics providing one to one support.

 “The whole course was very informative, well-structured and inspiring.”

The tailored element was important as every returner’s situation is different, with many women facing barriers beyond the gap in their CV.

“Being from a different cultural background it helped me find out about new, unknown terms and techniques while searching for a job.”

Being part of a community of women in a similar position was also incredibly supportive and reassuring that other returners often found the transition back to work difficult to achieve.

“From the initial workshop I realised I wasn’t the only one facing the frustrations of trying to return to work.”

Eight employers offered 21 placements, recruited 11 returners and interviewed many more, giving them a chance to apply their refreshed career development skills.

“It meant I had to very quickly tailor my CV and prepare for an interview and those two things were a really big deal at the time.”

Another ten returners reached their ultimate goal during the Programme, finding a permanent role as a result of the supported job search activities.

“Thank you for all the invaluable care, guidance and advice you shared with me, making my job-seeking journey a life changing experience.”

Those further ahead in their journey were generous in sharing their experiences throughout the Programme, to show that it was possible for a returner placement to provide a stepping stone back into a permanent role.

One barrier holding many women back was a fear of committing to a role that would create a work life imbalance.  All our employer partners agreed they would be happy to talk flexible working with successful applicants and have made a range of different accommodations that have worked extremely well for both parties.

 “I have found a placement which has allowed myself and family to try out the adjustments needed for me to get back to work.”

Rather than applying for a role right away, another five returners decided to embark on postgraduate study to enable them to get back in the STEM saddle later in 2018, perhaps riding a slightly different horse to the one they got off several years before.

“Being part of the women returners has genuinely changed my life and given me the confidence to pursue a massive career change. It has also allowed me to change other aspects of my life by evaluating what I want to achieve. This will allow me to have the kind of life I’d only dreamed. I can’t thank you enough.”

By mid-February 62.5% of this cohort of women had achieved a positive destination.  Those still looking had also taken significant steps towards their career goals on the journey they are making, at their own pace and that can take years rather than months to complete.

According to research by PwC, addressing the career break penalty through measures such as returnships could provide a £1.7 billion boost to the UK’s annual economic output. This could increase the annual earnings of female professionals by an average of £4,000 per woman.

73% of women graduates do not remain in the STEM industry; such a significant drop out rate means that our STEM sector is without the diversity it needs to remain innovative in finding the solutions to today’s problems and the ideas behind tomorrow’s inventions.  Employers need women

It may require a little extra effort initially for employers to ensure their hiring processes are inclusive and don’t rule out women with a gap in their career history. However our returner talent proves it is worth it. Every employer that interviewed returners for a placement made one of them an offer.  Early feedback also shows employers to be pleased with the contribution they are already making to their business.

Joe McGuigan, Architect Engineering Branch Manager at EDF Energy spoke at recent events for employers in Glasgow and Edinburgh to share their experience of offering a returner placement.

Joe was looking for a project engineer to drive forward an update to one of our Power Station’s operating systems when he heard about the Programme through one of our women returners who had enquired about possible work experience.  Joe explains:

“The timing was ideal and in Architect Engineering we try to make sure we’ve got a diversity of experience because it does require innovative thinking.  Of 16 in the team we only have one woman so [a returner placement] fits in with our diversity and inclusion aspirations to have the right amount of people from all backgrounds.

Getting in touch with Equate was the enabler to take me from ‘I’d be really interested but don’t know how that would work’ to ‘I know I’ve got somebody to walk me through the steps’.  And when I spoke to HR and my line manager I can say this has happened elsewhere and it has worked.”

Joe interviewed three women returners and the panel was so impressed that they offered placements to two of them.

“What a difference from going to an agency. It was really easy.  Equate just asked me to scope out exactly what was needed, then from your pool of women returners was able to give me returners that met exactly what I wanted, so that took all of that out for me.”

The first of these two returners, Julie Struthers, who had told Joe about the Equate Programme and suggested the placement option, started her placement in February.

“Already you can see Julie is really keen to get going, really keen to get involved and already making an impact, so it’s been great for me and great for EDF Energy.”

Minister for Employability and Skills, Jamie Hepburn, gave an address at our Glasgow employers’ event acknowledging the work done by the project and encouraging employers to take positive action to support women.

“We are committed to work with employers, like those of you here today and those across the country, to pilot ‘Returners’ programmes and encourage Fair Work practices, to help women and others to update their skills and knowledge and smooth their transition back into the workplace. Flexible working, carers’ policies, returners programmes, staff support networks, better use of language in recruitment processes and unconscious bias training for recruitment managers are some of the practices that will make opportunities more accessible to women”

This pilot Scottish Government project will come to an end in March 2018, when the final evaluation report will be made available, sharing further information on how employers can provide returnships.