professional women returning to work from career breaks
3 in 5
professional women return to lower-skilled or lower-paid jobs following their career breaks
potential earnings gains to professional women from addressing the career break penalty
potential boost to GDP from addressing the career break penalty
Despite the gains the UK has made in improving female labour market outcomes, there's still significant underutilised potential: one such group is professional women returning from career breaks. Our new research shows that addressing the career break penalty could deliver gains of £1.7 billion to the UK economy.
You can explore key findings from the research below, as well as illustrative examples showing the different experiences of women returning to work. You can also download the full report where we discuss the challenges professional women face when returning to work after career breaks, what businesses can do to tackle them, and the gains from addressing the career break penalty.
• Around 427,000 female professionals, including directors, engineers, scientists, researchers, doctors, lawyers and accountants, who are currently on career break want to return to the workforce in the future.
• Three in five professional women (or around 249,000) returning to the workforce are likely to move into lower-skilled or lower-paid roles, experiencing an immediate earnings reduction of up to a third.
• 29,000 women who return to the workforce on a part-time basis will be underemployed, meaning that they would prefer to work more hours if flexible working opportunities were made more widely available.
• Taken together, two-thirds of (or around 278,000) professional women could be working below their potential when they return to the workforce.
• Addressing the career break penalty could boost female earnings by £1.1 billion annually, equivalent to £4,000 per woman.
• The multiplier effect from the higher earnings and spending power of these women generates additional gains to the UK economy of £1.7 billion.
• Business action, including combating the negative bias towards CV gaps, increasing the availability of part-time and flexible opportunities and helping women transition back to work, can help address the career break penalty.
Our research only shows a part of the story: the experiences of professional women returning to work are highly varied, depending on their own personal circumstances, their work preferences and the nature of the industries they return to. We've provided four illustrative examples below of the experiences of hypothetical professional women returning to work.