How can employers help keep career break parents up-to-speed? Maggie Berry, managing director of WomeninTechnology.co.uk, writes this guest blog.
Technology is arguably one of the most fast-moving industries there is. With constant new inventions, upgrades and training demands, it can be difficult enough to stay current when you haven’t had a career break.
But what about parental leave? Surely that puts parents, and particularly women, who are typically the predominant carer, in a position where they are automatically behind the times if they take time out for their children?
Anyone who’s had a career break will tell you that getting back up to speed and hitting the ground running was challenging – but within the technology sector the challenge is multiplied by the advances made in the industry while they were absent.
So how can technology businesses ensure that their staff members return to work fully prepared and that they are not alienating a large proportion of their workforce by leaving them to struggle to catch up?
In recent months I’ve seen some excellent examples of programmes that help those who have had a long career break, particularly new mothers, to stay in the loop and to be brought up to speed when they return.
For example, in the past I’ve blogged about Asda’s Mum2Mum mentoring scheme, aimed at supporting women returning to work. The programme includes mentoring sessions, a 12-month programme of support, and an online network to keep in touch while on maternity leave.
Goldman Sachs is another company investing
in a programme that gives women the chance to return to the workforce and sharpen their skills. The “Returnship Programme” sees employees spending 10 weeks working on projects for a specific department, attending talks by executives on market trends, participating in workshops on career and professional development, and being brought up to speed with software such as Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint.
While these are both excellent and commendable initiatives, the technology sector is somewhat behind in implementing similar schemes. As it is the industry that moves the fastest, one would assume that employers would prioritise keeping staff members’ knowledge current.
In order for women to truly be able to compete in a fast-paced sector when they are returning from maternity leave, more businesses need to embrace programmes that allow them to catch up. For example:
• Every company should have an optional refresher course in the technology being used on a regular basis
• There should be mandatory training in upgrades, developments and new systems
• If a parent has expressed the intention to return to work after leave, they should be given the option of taking on a mentor to fill them in on company developments and new technologies while they are away
While this may sound somewhat idealistic, I’m sure that implementing the aforementioned suggestions would vastly increase the number of women succeeding in technology and moving up to board level. In a competitive and male-dominated industry, it’s vital that working mothers are given all the support possible in order to level the playing field. That extra training could be the difference between struggling to catch up – or a life-changing promotion.
Businesses should want women to succeed and provide them with all the tools available to do so.
What do you think can be done to ensure parents returning to work are kept up to date and that the break does not affect their career? I’d love to hear your thoughts!