Returning to work: how to retain the talent in our industry

After a year in the making, on the 9th of October, we hosted our Returning to Work panel to open the debate and respond to a need we had identified among our members.

The sold-out event demonstrated both men and women are actively seeking to find ways in which personal and professional development are not at odds with each other.

At a time such as the present, when our industry so desperately needs to react in order to be prepared for the challenges ahead, it seems the loss of skilled professionals due to outdated frameworks is a price we cannot afford to pay.

Hosted by Keating Chambers, and Chaired by Theresa Mohammed, National Chair, the panel was formed by

  • Julianne Miles, Co-founder and MD of Women Returners
  • Israil Bryan, Diversity and Social Programme Manager at Skanska Plc. (Our largest corporate member)
  • Krista Lee, Barrister at Keating Chambers.

Julianne, who co-founded Women returners to support returners through the transition between a career break and employment, explained that their role is focused on helping employers to create a framework in which their employees can feel able to return to the job in a manner which works for both.

The main challenges faced by those looking to return to employment as identified by the panel were:

1. a loss of professional identity (due to a disconnection with employment life and loss of confidence )
2. lack of availability of flexible roles,
3. unclear routes to return

Julianne explained that their experience had shown, the key to a successful return, is in avoiding to dilute capabilities/responsibilities as it is often the case when employees return part-time.

On this particular point, Skanska’s Israil Bryan explained it was important for companies to create an environment which can allow people to perform to their best and provide the support necessary during the process of return. She explained that this requires a frank conversation and a mutual understanding of what works for the business and the person.

The panellists identified a trend among employees to expect a degree of flexibility. Flexible employment opportunities which can allow for further education and training as well as for building a family are valued above others. Those trends are important to both men and women and seem to be cross-generational.

When Julie was asked to compare our industry with others with whom WR work with, she expressed that although our industry (construction) is not as vocal as others are, companies who approach them are much more open to real change. They understand the need for it and are keen to follow through and implement the change.

In order to contribute to a cultural change, Krista encouraged women, in particular, to continue to show up (to return) in order to signal to others that it can be done. That you can have a family or a career break and still be able to progress and further your career.

As a final tip, Israil explained that form the employer’s point of view, it is always easier to steer the employer in the direction of what could work for them when they are specific about their skill set and availability. She explained that very often returners have skills which no other employee has, and which can complement the team and that it is key for the business to know of those.

The open debate covered many topics including the opportunities technology could bring to the industry, the need to involve every employee in the returning strategy (as more men also choose to take a career break) and the importance for the institutes to back a diverse workforce and help employers see the value of their team as a whole.

Overall, it was a fantastic session and one our team were very pleased to have worked hard on preparing and promoting as the time to open the discussion has arrived.

We would like to thank Keating Chambers for hosting and the panellists for the generous contribution.

In a personal note, I would also like to thank everyone who attended (especially the HR representatives of our corporate members and collaborators) and to encourage you to spread the word beyond our network to deliver a real difference.

I would also like to thank Theresa for Chairing the session and Helen for coordinating the process with the panellists. I would also like to thank Kathy and Martyna (from our committee) for helping to make attendees feel welcome

Cristina, LDN & SE Chair

(if you follow us on twitter @nawicLDN , this was our hashtag #nawicreturners )

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