Women on a career break expect to be demoted when they return, study finds

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Susan Devaney
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A third of women expect to return to work to a more junior level after taking a career break, a study has found. 

Women take career breaks for a multitude of reasons, perhaps to take time out to have children or to go off and see the world. But one thing’s for sure, it’s not often an easy decision to make having spent years working their way up the ladder.

Which might be why a new study says many women expect to return to work at a more junior level after deciding to take an extended break.

The survey, carried out by coaching organisation Women Returners, found that over a third (36%) of professional women expect to return to work at a more junior level after taking some time out – with many women “underselling themselves at an interview or not negotiating a joining salary”. 

“We need to set aside the stereotype that all women returners are mothers with small children looking for part-time work,” said Julianne Miles, co-founder and MD of Women Returners. “People take career breaks at different life stages for a variety of reasons and are often coming back to work with a resurgence of motivation and the ambition to pick up their careers where they left off.”

Over a third (36%) of professional women expect to return to work at a more junior level after taking some time out. 

And Miles says that to ignore this significant percentage of people is to risk damaging UK business.

“The business argument for getting professional women back into employment is undeniable. These women are highly skilled and experienced […] Returners bring a wealth of knowledge and a fresh perspective to an organisation. Ignoring a substantial talent pool such as this is damaging to UK business and the economy.”

The research found that women returning to work and taking a more junior role than they held previously is contributing to the lack of women in senior management, and the gender pay gap.

The survey of 187 women – all based in the UK and currently on a career break – found that flexibility, like being able to work from home, is very important, with 87% looking for that option in their next job when the return to the workforce.

Many women (60%) cited the main requirements they were looking for in their next role as satisfaction, fulfilment or identity, over financial incentives.

“A major motivation for our network in going back to work is to regain their working identity. When a woman leaves the work environment for a long period, particularly for parental or caring break, they can lose a sense of ‘self’. Regaining this identity and the fulfilment from achieving at work can be incredibly energising,” said Miles.

Earlier this year the government announced a pledge of £5 million towards return-to-work schemes, following the publication of Women and Work All Parliamentary Group’s recommendations. 

“If we want to be a happier and more successful country, we must appreciate that some people take time out of the workplace for either caring responsibilities or to pursue other interests,” said Conservative co-chair of the APPG, Flick Drummond MP.

“I would now like the funding to be extended to other areas where there are staffing shortages and it is difficult to return to work, including teaching, nursing and medicine,” Drummond added.

Images: iStock


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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.