Northern Ireland is one of the most exciting technology clusters in the UK according to Tech Nation. As the technology sector continues to grow from strength to strength, it is an important part of our economy that provides well paid jobs and a wide range of good career opportunities.
Sadly, it is an industry in which women are underrepresented (making up just 17% of the tech workforce in the UK) and particularly at management and executive levels (only 5% of leadership positions in the tech industry are held by women). The reasons for this are complex and not yet fully understood. According to research by AnitaB.org, 56% of women at high-tech companies leave their organisation when they are in mid-level roles. Of the women who voluntarily leave work (take a career break), only 40% return to full-time, professional jobs, according to the Harvard Review
People take career breaks for many reasons including health issues, elder care and most often for full-time parenting. These are common life-experiences that most of us will encounter during our working lives. So why, after career breaks, do we often hear of people struggling to re-enter the workforce? In an effort to find out why I conducted my own research, seeking the opinion of a range of women who have taken a career break.
Some recurring themes came up, such as changing priorities as a result of life change – a common experience of new parents who often find that their burning career ambitions become overshadowed by their new role as a parent for a while. Another common theme is the fear of “falling behind”. Being out of work for a while can lead to negative thoughts that erode our confidence in our own ability and self-worth. And of course there are the practical issues; in response to change, our life takes on an additional layer of complexity and just getting through the day requires a previously unimaginable level of organisation. As a result some people opt to come back to work in a different role, with less perceived pressure. PwC, Women Returners and 30% Club estimated that 249,000 out of 427,000 women in the UK on a career break, are likely to enter lower-skilled roles when they return to work.
The good news is that the tech sector may provide some of the most flexible working conditions in today’s labour market. In an effort to attract and retain staff, many tech organisations have adopted modern workplace culture based on a healthy work life balance. Companies such as Core Systems are introducing programmes designed to help women re-enter the workforce which ensure return to work at the same level, flexibility around working times, phased return, salary sacrifice schemes for childcare and coaching support through the return process.
I would appeal to anyone on a career break considering coming back to work, to seriously consider a role in the technology industry. It’s not about specific technical skills, the latest business methodology or the latest processes or tools. Those are all easily acquired. What’s much more important are commitment, shared values and a positive attitude. We would love to hear from you.
Patricia O'Hagan CEO Core Systems