Women returners untapped potential

Women returning to the workforce after prolonged periods of leave remain one of the most highly skilled but underused and untapped resources available to employers.
Roseann Kelly

NEWS headlines last week lauded Northern Ireland’s unemployment rate as it hit a record low of 3 per cent in the first quarter of the year. This statistic, combined with an employment level of 70 per cent, one of the highest ever recorded in Northern Ireland, has sparked conversation across the media.

However, with such a low rate of unemployment, many sectors are increasingly reporting a shortage of skilled staff as more jobs become available and there are less people to fill these roles.

Although positive for jobseekers, with employers willing to pay higher starting wages to attract the right candidates, what can businesses do to ensure they secure the skills they need?

One solution to a skills shortage is to look elsewhere when it comes to recruitment. Women returning to the workforce after prolonged periods of leave remain one of the most highly skilled but underused and untapped resources available to employers. It makes sense from both a business and economic standpoint to better utilise the potential in our domestic workforce and improve the integration of female professionals into the labour market. At Women in Business we understand the value and contribution women can make to the economy and I truly believe now more than ever, that our potential is being realised across the board. Women need to be targeted and specifically marketed to if we are to encourage this untapped talent back in to the Market.

In a broader sense for businesses to attract, and importantly retain, top talent, they must consider a range of tactics. Rather than focusing on specific skill sets, employers should also consider applicants’ attitudes and behaviours, ensuring they are in line with the ethos and outlook of the business. Packages which include additional benefits can be the tipping point as candidates make their final decision on a job offer. Opportunities for career breaks, flexible working, reduced hours and extra holidays along with a positive working environment, help businesses stand out from among the crowd. Signing up to the new Gender Diversity Charter Mark launched by Women in Business last year, availing of the WIB Back to Business Returners Programme and their very successful mentoring programme will demonstrate to candidates the culture of an organisation and their commitment to staff.

Perhaps most important of all is the need to offer employees the opportunity to thrive and develop their skills. Not only will this help your staff develop professionally, but the opportunity to do so attracts the most motivated and ambitious candidates and crucially, encourages them to stay in your business. Individual development plans provide employees with a roadmap to success, while performance metrics will set tangible and realistic goals for them to achieve this.

Northern Ireland cannot afford to waste any of our talent or skills and the huge benefits that women returners bring cannot be underestimated. Women in Business invite employer to get in touch if they wish to explore this further.

:: Roseann Kelly (roseann@ is chief executive of Women in Business, the largest and fastest growing business network for female entrepreneurs and senior women in management in Northern Ireland.

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