I often talk about the importance of factoring women into the workplace and a big part of that though is the fact that many women walk away indefinitely when starting a family. Recently though there has been an increased interest in returner programs to help transition both men and women back into the workforce after a leave of absence.

Who is a Returner?

When looking at the role gender plays in the workforce, one aspect that is just starting to get attention is the role of the returner. This is the woman who left her position to have a child or devote time to her family and, sometimes years later, decides to return to work. While three-fourths of women do want to return to their former jobs, research has found that as many as three in five actually end up in lower paying positions with different companies. These women end up earning a third of the salary they were earning when they resigned.

What are Companies doing to Help?

Among the first companies to address this problem are banking giants UBS and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. They’re creating “returner programs” that are intended to help these women come back into the positions for which they’re best qualified. These companies are beginning to see that they’re losing qualified and talented workers to lower skilled jobs.

UBS is a Swiss investment bank and, seeking to address the issue, they instituted their Career Comeback program in 2016. To qualify for the program, individuals must be able to show a minimum employment break of two years and, although the program is open to both genders, it’s primarily women who take advantage of the opportunity. The program targets individuals who were not previously employed by UBS and who have experience serving in senior leadership roles.

While working mothers do represent a portion of returning workers, they are not the complete sum of the group. Many people, both men and women, take breaks from their careers to care for elder parents or a spouse who may have suffered severe injuries from an accident. The program recognizes that disabilities and illness can affect anyone and those supporting returner programs believe people shouldn’t be penalized for taking a career break to care for their loved ones.

By way of one example, Seema Kohli took an 11.5 year break from her position as a legal specialist, following the death of a close family member. She recalled feeling that she needed the time to devote to her family and to get through her own grieving process. She joined the Career Comeback program at UBS in 2016 and says it was instrumental in getting her career back on track. She reveals that the coaches, sponsors, and her mentor helped guide her back to work by providing support and friendship, as well as more practical guidance.

When individuals attempt to return to work, they often find that the odds are stacked against them. Returner programs seek to level the field, giving returning workers the opportunity to restart their stalled careers. Instead of starting at the bottom again, many companies are helping them step back into their careers, because they see the advantages in hiring an experienced and talented individual.