Planning and flexibility key to encouraging return to work for women scientists, finds survey

August 5, 2004

Brussels, 04 Aug 2004

Not enough is being done to facilitate return to work in the science and technology sector following a career break, according to a UK survey.

The survey was carried out by the UK's Institute of Physics in collaboration with the Daphne Jackson Trust on career break provision. Members of both organisations were sent questionnaires on career breaks, and 294 responses were received, of which fewer than five per cent were from men. The results indicate that having children is the reason behind around 70 per cent of such breaks.

A separate study carried out recently by the UK government's Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) found that of those science, engineering and technology graduates who return to work after a career break, around two thirds choose to work in a different sector.

'In light of the much-discussed skills gap in the UK workforce, it is clear that the economy cannot afford to allow already highly trained individuals to fall so easily off the career ladder,' states the new report. 'The grim fact is, however, that, for the vast majority, routes back into the workforce simply do not exist. For some, a career break carries the danger of becoming a career obstacle as skills become outdated in the absence of retraining opportunities.'

The study found that around 60 per cent of those who take career breaks do not return to the same employer. Particularly notable is that while 34 per cent of respondents worked in the industrial sector prior to their career break, only 14 per cent returned to a new commercial or industry-based position.

The report writers suggest that this is because industry is less flexible in terms of working hours than academia. Of those physicists in industry who did return to their prior employer, 55 per cent went back on a part-time basis, compared with 85 per cent of academics.

The survey identified best practice for those taking a career break that wish to return to work later. Better planning and negotiation with employers is recommended for those who know they will be taking a break, while keeping in touch with that person through invitations to meetings and company newsletters is recommended for employers. Some of the success stories identified during the survey also involved a mentor who helped to maintain an individual's contact with their field, as well as their confidence in their own abilities, and to make the process of returning to work less daunting.

Following on from this finding, the report writers identify a 'significant role for the professional institutions in keeping women, and men, attached to their respective fields on career paths that will often include periods off of the main track.'

'Clearly, if highly skilled women such as engineers and analysts are leaving their jobs in industry for academia or even leaving science altogether, industry is losing out on valuable workers. Scientists are expensive to train, so it is not a good investment to let them leave their profession just because of an old fashioned attitude to working practices,' said the Institute of Physics' Wendy Kneissl, who commissioned the study.
To access the survey, please consult the following web address: pp%20career%20break%204web.pdf

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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