Bringing back alumni talent

by Julianne Miles in Partners
Published: 31st August 2018

Could you be forgetting one critical area of alumni talent?

Julianne Miles, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Women Returners, discusses the benefits of hiring senior professionals back into the workforce following a career break.

While the benefits of engaging with alumni who are currently in the workforce are increasingly well documented, what is less obvious is that there are also many benefits to employers of engaging with alumni who are currently ‘professionally inactive’ – those who have taken an extended career break.

Women Returners’ research with PwC and 30% Club (2016) identified that over 420,000 professional/managerial-level women are currently taking career breaks for childcare or other caring reasons in the UK and want to return to work at some point. In addition, there are many other women doing small-scale work to fit around their family life and those taking career breaks for other reasons, such as health or relocation.

Challenges for returners

In most cases, these women step out of the corporate workforce intending to pause rather than end their careers. However, they face both personal and structural barriers when they decide to return to work. Professional self-confidence typically is reduced after a multi-year break and technology advances in the workplace make a return more daunting. An equally significant challenge is the negative perception by recruiters of a CV gap. Employers with an expectation that new hires need to ‘hit the ground running’ are reluctant to hire anyone who may require additional support. As a result, this army of experienced, well-qualified women has been largely neglected by employers.

Returner programmes – a solution

This situation is changing. At Women Returners, we have led the introduction of returner programmes into the UK and Ireland since 2014, partnering with over 50 organisations to create a solution to these challenges. Returner programmes have now brought hundreds of high-calibre professionals back into leading employers across sectors, such as EY, Skanksa, O2, Bloomberg and the Bank of England. These programmes act as supported bridges back to mid to senior level roles through ‘returnships’ (higher-level paid professional internships) and ‘supported hiring’ programmes (direct hiring). Although programmes are open to men as well as women, successful candidates are mainly female, with career breaks ranging from 18 months to 18 years, and often include alumni alongside other external hires.

Business benefits to bringing back career break alumni

The key benefit is accessing a strong experienced hire talent pool, which can help to increase diversity and fill skills gaps. Companies running returner programmes consistently report that they are incredibly impressed with the quality of the candidates that they see. As around 90% of returning professionals are female, returner programmes provide the opportunity to refill the female talent pipeline.

Returners can increase both age and cognitive diversity. People who have taken a non-linear career path bring refreshed enthusiasm and an innovative perspective to a team. Returning alumni have the additional benefit of understanding the organisation, together with the bonus of the new skills and experience developed during their career break. Returner programmes can also help to retain existing employees. Returning professionals become new senior role models for junior women, demonstrating that the organisation will welcome and support employees back if they choose to take time out of their careers for family or other reasons.

Of course, there is also a clear benefit to society and the economy in bringing experienced returning professionals back into roles commensurate with their skills and experience. As such, returner programmes give forward-thinking organisations an exciting opportunity to access a high-calibre talent pool while acting as a force for good.

About Julianne Miles

Julianne is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Women Returners, a consulting, coaching and network organisation specialising in enabling the return to work of professionals after an extended career break. Their corporate services include consulting on best practice returner programme development, providing returner coaching support and enabling access to the hard-to-reach group of high-calibre women returners. They are a social business: alongside their commercial activities, they run a free network community providing advice and support to returning professionals with over 4,000 subscribed members. They also act as a voice and advocate for the returner community in national media and Government forums. For more information on Women Returners and returner programmes, see or contact

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