The challenges women returners face

Elisa Duriavig
March 12, 2023

Once I was a Marketing Manager. In the years before my children were born. I diligently climbed the career ladder, finding my way up to managing a small team in a well-known retail company in London. 

My husband followed a similar path, from junior consultant to senior roles, to eventually setting up his own consultancy business. 

We met when we were both students, almost 20 years ago, and we took our first steps in the job market together. In a few years, we grew to middle management positions, earning more or less the same salary and sharing household responsibilities. I honestly thought quite proudly “I’m cracking it.  I’ve left all the frustrations of my mother's generation behind. Look at this accomplished young woman in a gender equal relationship”. 

But, I was wrong… A year after we got married, something changed in this 21st-century progressive picture. I got pregnant and in January 2012 my husband and I welcomed our first child. All of a sudden,  I wasn’t an accomplished, ambitious, career driven marketing professional anymore. My new life was all about keeping a tiny human being alive. 

Despite the struggles, I loved being a mum. Childcare costs in our area were prohibitive, so my husband and I agreed that I would stay at home until I figured out what to do next. 

Roll forward 10 years and another child has completed our family. My husband’s career has skyrocketed during this time, whilst I juggled motherhood and managing a household with freelancing and numerous flexible gigs, that allowed me the time and mind space I wanted.

Even if this is not the norm (in most families both parents need to work to stay afloat), my story is not uncommon. I’m well aware of my privilege – I live in a white middle-class household who can survive on a single income. However, in these past 10 years I met many other parents (almost exclusively mums, but also a few dads) who gave up ambitions and excellent career prospects when they became parents.

This sense of lost potential left me with the desire to look closer at the experience of women returning to work after an extended career break. 

According to research, 17% of women leave employment completely in the five years following childbirth, compared to 4% of men. Mothers who leave employment completely are three times more likely to return to a lower-paid or lower-responsibility role than those who do not take a break. Increasing female participation in the British labour force could add £170 bn to the UK economy and boost GDP by 9%. (Source: Women Returner’s website)

As part of a MSc in Social Anthropology at University College London, I’m exploring the challenges that women returners face when they go back to work. 

If you.....

  • Have taken a career break of 2+ years for caring responsibilities at any point in your life
  • Are actively looking for a job, or thinking about going back to work, or have already gone back to work after a career break of 2+ years

.... then please consider filling in this short survey. It takes just 10 minutes to complete, is completely anonymous and through the white paper it will inform, will provide insights that will shape employers’ policies and contribute to the debates on equality, diversity and ageism at work. Your contribution will make a difference. 2to3days will also be able to use the white paper to further their efforts with employers to support women who want to work flexibly

If you have any questions about my research or the survey, please email me at [email protected]

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