The action shouldn't stop at the hiring process, of course - it requires follow-through, and a commitment to providing support to returning workers throughout the entire course of their career at the company. The Centre for Ageing Better, for instance, advises workplaces also commit to creating a more age-inclusive workplace culture. This includes eliminating age-bias in hiring and encouraging career development and health support for workers regardless of age.
Similarly, ACAS offers advice on where employers can start to tackle creating an inclusive workplace for disabled workers. All employers have a legal responsibility to make reasonable adjustments and protect disabled workers from discrimination. However, this should only be the beginning. It is crucial that employers and managers are able to understand what disabilities can look like (or not) and how they can affect an employee's performance at work. This can then help in implementing solutions that allow disabled employees to succeed in their job. It's often said that anyone can become disabled at any time - reducing the stigma and ignorance around disability will, among a wealth of many, many other benefits, inevitably awaken employers to the fact that there are many disabled people who either already have significant knowledge, skills and/or workplace experience, or are otherwise entirely capable of succeeding in their careers. The only thing missing is intelligent, empathetic, meaningful support.
Offering training programmes is also a crucial factor to supporting returning workers, particularly in the fast-paced tech job market. "Returnships" are, as defined by Women Returners, professional-level, competitively paid placement[s] for 3-6 months, with a strong possibility of an ongoing role at the end of the programme". Essentially - internships for those who are returning to the workforce. By actively investing in growing the skills and capabilities of these workers, a company can reap the long-term benefits of both moulding the skills of its workforce and showing a great duty of care and respect towards its employees. Returnships aren't the only format available to employers, however - just one example of way to provide a supportive period of transition to returning workers.
These programs also don't necessarily have to be "soft" - they can be intensive, aimed at bringing a worker up to speed in as short a time as possible, whilst also ensuring that they are learning in a way that is accessible, can help build their confidence, and offers as much support as possible. Many companies have already experienced great success with these schemes - techUK, for instance, runs formal returner programmes across a number of corporate bodies in the UK. These schemes are in fact often less costly than internships, as they often focus on recruiting staff who are already qualified and experienced.
With the gender gap in IT still prevalent, however, and tech skill shortages still posing a significant problem, it is clear that not enough is yet being done. If these problems are unlikely to disappear in the near future, then perhaps it's time to start implementing longer term solutions like returning workforce programmes at a higher rate.
The Difference Engine is a recruitment and executive search firm specialising in technology.