What is a returner programme?

A returner programme takes the concept of an internship and makes it relevant to people who have taken a career break and are looking to return to work. Typical programmes enable the individual to transition back into the workplace through a structured and specifically tailored programme. Participants either undertake a piece of relevant project work or step into a potentially available role providing them with the ability to demonstrate their suitability for longer term employment.

Watch a film about how O2 set up a pilot returner programme.


Is a returner programme relevant to my organisation?

If you agree with at least three of the following five statements, a returner programme is likely to be a useful tool for your organisation:

1. Your organisation has a stated goal (publicly or internally) of moving towards gender parity in specific areas or levels of your organisation.

2. There is a shortage of women in your industry.

3. Your CEO and/or executive team is aware of the link between gender diversity and increased financial performance.

4. Your organisation is struggling in one or more areas/levels to recruit and retain great* people.

5. Your internal or external recruitment team is failing to create gender balanced shortlists or you are hiring less women than you would like.

* We all have different definitions of what great is. We mean someone who delivers on agreed objectives and does it in such a way that other employees and clients would miss him or her if they left your business.


Which organisations are returner programmes NOT suitable for?

  • Organisations who ‘measure’ who’s doing a good job by how much time they spend in the office
  • Organisations who are uncomfortable with the concept of flexible working
  • Organisations with a CEO who doesn’t know/believe research showing the link between gender diversity and profitability.


Why is it necessary to run a programme for returners?

  • Most career returners have been applying to normal jobs and they don’t even get invited to an interview – this has resulted in a large talent pool that really wants to get back to work but is unable to do so. In a country with purported skills shortages it is crazy that we overlook this market.
  • Most jobs have countless applications and a recruiter or an internal resourcing team will short-list 4 or 5 for the line manager to review. The one with the CV gap is the one most likely to be taken off due to the biases. In 2012 there was a fascinating piece of research done in the US by a business called The Ladders[i]. Utilising scientific eye-tracking equipment they analysed how long the average recruiter looks at a CV, done over ten weeks. The average? Six seconds. And they look at your Current Title & Company and the Dates first. So if the first thing they see for a Returner is dates that highlight a break and no current employer then what hope is there for those six seconds?
  • There is still a stigma around flexible working in many organisations. Forward thinking businesses are embracing it, but overall far too many businesses suffer from presenteeism and clock watching. Many women when returning from a career break will require some form of flexibility in their role. Again during the recruitment process we are told that they are often uninvited to interview the minute they mention part-time or flexible working.

[i] http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-recruiters-look-at-during-the-6-seconds-they-spend-on-your-resume-2012-4?IR=T


What’s the value of a returner scheme?

We believe there are five key points of value.

For the organisation:

1. Talent and technical skills are on offer that your business may not have been able to         access in your internal pipelines.

2. Candidates who have taken a break from their career bring diversity of experience           and thought to your business challenges.

3. Younger women want to see more, older women in their businesses; they want role         models and want to see working women at all stages of their career.

For the individual returner:

4. Participants are supported during the transition period through coaching and                   invaluable conversations with peers on the programme.

5. Delivery of a relevant and valued piece of work breeds self-confidence when seeking       further employment. Participants go on to target roles commensurate with their skills         and abilities.

How long should it be, what should you pay?

There is no one size fits all approach to timing and pay.  Some schemes last 12 weeks, some 16 weeks and some are 6 months. Pay is usually dependent on what level of returner the organisation is seeking to attract. The best return to work programmes have had dual bandings if applicable to the talent presented. The most important thing is to ensure the returner, if hired after the programme, goes on to a salary that is commensurate with the role they are offered.

If you would like to know more

The Talent Keeper Specialists have partnered with Inclusivity (www.inclusivity.co.uk) to create a fresh, start-to-finish returner offering we think beats what’s currently on the market. From sourcing, screening and selection, through to induction, coaching and employability skills sessions during the programme.

If you’re not quite there yet and have cultural issues to tackle around flexible working or conscious/unconscious biases for example, let’s have a conversation. We design and deliver solutions to shape inclusive, positive workplaces. Please e-mail hello@talentkeepers.co.uk or call 01727 856169.

Talk to Jessica Chivers jc@talentkeepers.co.uk or Stephanie Dillon stephanie@inclusivity.co.uk or call 01727 856169.





Talent Fueller – Allison Page, DLA Piper

Allison Page

Talent Fueller Interview with Allison Page, DLA Piper. “Talent Fueller” is our name for individuals who are working to keep, support and fuel female talent whether part of their role or ‘off the side of their desk.’

Allison Page is a partner in the finance team of global law firm, DLA Piper. She works in the Leeds office, runs a team of around 40 people and is married with two children. Colleagues put Allison forward to be profiled as a Talent Fueller owing to her longstanding commitment to supporting and developing female talent. In this post we’ve picked out some of the golden nuggets of our conversation.

Allison kicks off by telling us she believes the glass ceiling still exists and the answer lies in businesses putting the effort into women continuously, right from the beginning of their careers. “One of the reasons I believe passionately in supporting women’s careers is that we recruit more female trainees than men and yet we end up having less than 20% female partners and even fewer in the really senior positions.”

A significant part of the answer is sponsorship, she says.

Sponsorship is vital

“A sponsor is not the same as a mentor. Sponsorship is about a senior person pushing a junior colleague’s career, giving them direction; someone who is prepared to go the extra mile for you and to represent you in the room when you are not there. There’s a direct benefit to the sponsor and the recipient and I think it’s important that the latter is loyal to their sponsor – that’s what really makes it work.  I believe a sponsor has to be someone in a position of power who can change the outcomes of your career and has a vested interest in doing so. I believe we have a greater chance of retaining our female talent if they have that level of support.

“I hadn’t realised I’d been ‘sponsoring’ women for years, probably because I didn’t have one myself. I had never heard the word sponsorship as a form of management and talent development. Licensed careers weren’t really discussed in those terms in law firms. You were either on the partnership track or you weren’t.”

Allison explains that she now has what she calls a ‘half way house’ between sponsor and mentor who’s no longer in the business but who knows it very well. “Now that I have that, life is much easier.”

“Mentoring is important too and I think it’s important to encourage women to look for mentors who come from different sources. Mentoring can mean a long relationships but it can also work in the short-term too, depending on the nature of the issues you want to discuss.”

Pearls and The Two Percent Club

Another signal of DLA Piper’s commitment to women is its support for The Two Percent Club and The Pearls programme, both from ‘An Inspirational Journey’ – a business founded by Yorkshire woman Heather Jackson in response to her discovery that, at one time, Yorkshire was the county with the fewest number of women in board positions.  The Two Percent Club drives forward and positively influences the issue of the under-representation of women at the top of UK business. The club is a national organisation with regional representation and engages with the most senior and influential women across all sectors. The Pearls programme seeks to fix the leaking pipeline of female talent by providing career support and direction for women in middle through to executive management through a programme of events, networking and on-line resources. DLA Piper currently has 55 women on the programme. Allison was the driver behind both of these initiatives coming into DLA Piper – she’s currently Chair of The Two Percent Club in Yorkshire and is on the steering committee of the London group.

Career returners

Of course, becoming a parent is a challenging time and it’s a stage where significant dropout occurs. Allison says thinks there’s probably more DLA Piper could do to support maternity returners, “Certainly when it comes to returning to work, returning to the office space, support is really important. I think for some women, it is actually quite a difficult time. Obviously you can get used to things – you can get used to almost anything – but the transition can be very difficult for new mums.

“I also think we also need to recognise that not everybody, male and female, wants to have an all-singing, all-dancing career. Some people just don’t want that.”

Parents working flexibly

“I really encourage people to work flexibly. I don’t care if you are having your phone calls with your clients from your study or in the office.  I think it is a lot more of a challenge for us, but not impossible, for us to work on the basis that people go home at 5pm and that’s it, they’ve clocked off. Our clients tend to be quite demanding and we’re here to service their needs first and foremost. But if you want to go back to work after going home, having a family meal and putting the kids to bed, I think we should encourage that flexible approach.

“I don’t see my children very much during the week and that’s something that not everyone would be prepared to do. You have to take account of the individual circumstances and find a good way to work. What I often say to people is: ‘your career is a marathon, not a sprint’ and we need to find better ways to accommodate that.”

What’s next for DLA Piper in the inclusion space?

“We’re a very large business and diversity and inclusion is increasingly important to our clients as well as us.  You want to run a business as effectively as you can and to ignore the haemorrhage of female talent would be foolish – it’s an economic issue. I’d like to see diversity training included as part of our development programme so that when colleagues step into a management role they’re encouraged to think about what ‘valuing difference’ means and to live the behaviour.”

It’s clear that Allison is absolutely committed to supporting women not just outside her firm, but outside her industry too. Thanks to Allison’s drive, DLA Piper recently hosted a hugely successful event in conjunction with The Two Percent Club, designed to encourage more senior women across all sectors to join, and to support younger women coming through the ranks.

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