Creating pathways back to work changes the game

Wednesday, 28 June 2017


    Professionals taking a break from the workforce, for parenthood or family care, face a penalty. We need to change the game, says Pip Murphy.

    Many professionals at some point during their lifetime will take a career break, be it for parenthood, family care or other reasons. Sadly, research tells us those who take a career break (both men and women, but predominantly women) face an uphill battle in the process of returning to work, particularly if they wish to return anywhere near the level they left.

    Often, women are returning to the workplace in roles that are not in line with their experience or previous pay levels. In fact, three out of five women returning to the workforce end up working below their potential, taking an average 30 per cent pay cut. This results in a lack of women at the senior management level and thus perpetuates the ‘diversity deficit’ at the top of our organisations.

    And let’s not forget about the subset of women who never return to work at all. Serendis estimates that there are approximately 230,000 female university graduates in Australia who do not work but would do so if female workforce participation equalled that of males. What makes these statistics more troublesome is that around 60 per cent of Australia’s current university graduates are female.

    It is clear that there are a significant number of high-calibre, motivated women eager to resume their careers. Business can clearly benefit from harnessing the experience and maturity of this relatively untapped talent pool, not to mention the strong positive correlation between increased gender diversity and improved company performance.

    However, women deciding to re-enter the workplace continue to suffer what has been coined as the ‘career break penalty’ whereby they face significant challenges finding work in their chosen profession due to a gap of recent experience in their CV.

    But just how do we address the ‘career break penalty’?

    Career Returners – A new way forward

    In 2016, Serendis piloted the first cross-industry return to work initiative to be offered in Australia. We achieved great success in placing a cohort of high-quality individuals within the financial services industry.

    Following a break from her career in funds management and foreign exchange sales and strategy, Edwina Matthew took part in the 2016 Career Returners program. The program provided her with the opportunity to meaningfully re-engage with her career and helped in securing her current senior role as Head of Responsible Investments at BT Investment Management.

    Geraldine Bouquet, Head of Human Resources at BT Investment Management, said “We are delighted to partner with Serendis in our drive to attract experienced and talented women back into the workplace and in particular, to BT Investment Management.

    “Edwina’s example is just the tip of the iceberg. Career returners represents a win-win for all involved. Not only can firms like ours access an untapped talent pool of highly skilled, professional women, the returners themselves are provided with a vital launching pad to return to rewarding careers.”

    The Serendis Career Returners program addresses many of the challenges women face in the process of returning to work.

    First and foremost, the program offers the returners a chance to bolster their professional confidence. Through leadership training and coaching support, we work with returners to identify their signature strengths, to articulate their elevator pitch and recognise that their skills and experience not only remain viable, but are highly valuable.

    The program also attracts a cohort of senior, talented candidates which allows returners to rebuild their peer networks. The program fosters camaraderie with some of the most powerful insights coming from the dialogue, relationships and community returners build with each other. This is possibly the most powerful aspect of our approach.

    The pilot 2016 Career Returners program reinforced the depth of talent in the market place. This year, we are looking for candidates with a background in financial services, property, legal, project and change management, marketing, management consulting, finance and front office/sales.

    If this sounds interesting to you, or someone close to you, look us up on

    This is an extract from the latest 30% by 2018: Gender Diversity Progress Report.

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