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New Women Returners Programme helps STEM Employers reconnect with and retain lost talent

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By Lesley Macniven, Equate Scotland’s Women Returners Programme Lead

Equate Scotland have worked as change agents across the Scottish science, technology and engineering landscape for the last ten years, helping employers create more diverse, equal and family friendly workplaces.

As experts on increasing women’s representation in these STEM industries, our work articulates the social and economic benefits of creating an inclusive workplace culture. As such we work closely with partner organisation Family Friendly Working Scotland (FFWS).

Significant progress is being made by Scottish businesses in general – as evidenced in the recent FFWS Awards Ceremony. However, historic occupational segregation can mean STEM industries have a more challenging starting point.

Although most jobs in the near future will require STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), women make up only an estimated 25% of the workforce in Scotland’s STEM industries. For the anticipated future growth in these sectors to be inclusive, significant change is needed.

One reason for women’s under-representation is that only 27% of women who leave University qualified in a STEM subject remain in that industry long term.

The pipeline of female talent is notoriously leaky. Women’s careers are typically interrupted more than men’s by a range of planned and unplanned life events. This can include, but isn’t limited to, child rearing and caring responsibilities. This break from working can leave women unsure how to return, especially if they are seeking a more flexible work pattern than the traditional Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm.

In partnership with Prospect (the trade union for professionals), Equate Scotland have initiated a Women Returners career development programme, funded by the Scottish Government.

The aim is to launch women returning from a career break of two years or more back into STEM employment, through structured development to refresh skills and knowledge and rebuild confidence in a working environment.

Bespoke ongoing support, delivered with our partners, The Open University, includes workshops, online learning, networking events and one-to-one career clinics. The purpose is to identify and build on existing transferable skills. This will enable women to apply for a paid three-month placement with participating employers, to gain on-the-job experience.

A 2016 pilot programme received fantastic feedback from employers and participants:

“Employers in the energy sector are facing a significant skills shortage. This exciting initiative shows there is an extensive and highly skilled pool of women who could help to fill that gap, given the right support.”

– Rosie MacRae, HR Programmes Manager at SSE

“I’ve got a lot of confidence to do with my children’s lives and my volunteer work. But I had a lot less confidence about going back to work. The whole programme has given me that sort of confidence.”

– Women Returner

In recognition of the value of this hidden talent, the Women Returners Annual Report 2016, from the All Party Parliamentary Group Women and Work, recommended every employer with over 250 staff should consider having their own Returnship programme.

Until that happens Equate Scotland are leading the way in connecting women in Scotland with their own talents and capabilities, then with employers keen to utilise their skills.

Equate Scotland and FFWS can provide consultancy support to employers to help them understand how to increase women’s representation and implement family friendly and flexible working. Such measures benefit all their employees, while also delivering high performance and business effectiveness.

In addition to the employers involved in the 2016 pilot, EDF Energy, Scottish Power and SSE, who have committed to offer further placements, new employers are also joining. One such company is large private sector technology company, Fan Duel, who were Highly Commended in the 2017 FFWS Awards.

Forward-thinking employers, committed to gender diversity and interested in accessing this pool of female talent through offering a paid placement, can contact Lesley by emailing

Are you, or any women you know, eligible to join our Women Returners Programme? You need to be:

  • qualified in Science, Technology, Engineering or the Built Environment
  • currently not working in any of these industries
  • now considering how to return to work in STEM

To apply to join our programme, complete the online registration form on our website and upload your CV. The programme will provide CV development opportunities before you meet with employers.

Follow us on Twitter @EquateScotland

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