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UK government initiative will help women return to the STEM workforce

The majority of women surveyed described the process of returning to the industry as “difficult” or “very difficult”

The UK government has announced plans to help underrepresented women return to the STEM workforce after taking time out to care for loved ones.

Women face significant challenges when returning to the industry and are often overlooked by recruiters due to the gap in their CV. Female applicants are also 76% more likely to never receive interview feedback, according to research from STEM Returners, which aids professionals in returning to the industry’s workforce. 

The organisation's 2021 index survey found that 61% of professionals described the process of returning to the STEM industry as “difficult” or “very difficult”.

In order to aid former caretakers in finding employment, the government is launching a new returners programme that aims to provide “training, development and employment support to those who have taken time out for caring”.

The programme is scheduled to last until at least 2024, the Government Equalities Office announced on International Women’s Day, and will build on learnings from 25 previous similar initiatives to tailor the programme to the STEM industry.

Minister for Women, Baroness Stedman-Scott said that the programme will “keep talented minds in STEM and improve the representation of women and marginalised communities in those incredibly important roles”.

Commenting on the announcement, STEM Returners director Natalie Desty said that the organisation is “delighted to see the launch of a government returners programme across STEM industries”. 

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“Working in this space for the last five years, we know just how difficult it is for women to overcome the career gap penalty and the impacts that this has on their career in STEM," she told IT Pro. "We also know how vital their return is to an industry with an advanced skills gap and in some areas, a shocking lack of diversity."

Pay is also considered to be a significant issue for former caretakers, with research cited by the government showing that STEM returners with degrees are, on average, paid 70% of the hourly wage of an equivalent colleague who wasn’t forced to take time away from work. Given that 58% of caretakers are women, this directly contributes to the gender pay disparity.

Hence, the government has also announced a pilot that will require participating employers to publish salaries on all job adverts in an effort to close the gender salary gap.

“We believe that increased pay transparency will build on positive evidence of the role information can play when it comes to empowering women in the workplace. It is essential that we keep women at the forefront of the levelling up agenda as we recover from the pandemic and rebuild together,” said Stedman-Scott.

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