Women returning to work failing to reach earning potential

Many women trying to return to work are not achieving their earning potential, according to a new study by the University of Sheffield.

The research shows that although women returners are often eager to increase their participation in work, most find themselves in unfulfilling jobs with low wages and poor prospects.

The report, written by researchers from the university’s Institute of Work Psychology and commissioned by the Department for Trade and Industry, is based on a nationwide survey of 280 women and 40 employers.

It found that many women returners find themselves in administrative or sales roles, as they provide them with the flexibility to manage their work and childcare commitments.

The study highlighted several factors that may cause women to underachieve when returning to work:

  • The nature of advice and information that women receive can reinforce occupational segregation.
  • Support is currently directed at specific groups, such as lone parents and graduates, rather than being provided on a general basis
  • Employers’ attitudes also contribute, especially in traditionally male sectors, where flexible working practices are less common.

To deal with the problem of occupational segregation, the report recommends substantial changes to information and guidance services, the development of accessible re-training schemes and initiatives to encourage employers to adopt flexible working practices.

Chris Turgoose, co-author of the report, said three-fifths of women in the UK are currently employed in just 10 occupations, while at the same time there are huge skill shortages in numerous sectors where women are not usually employed.

“Our report shows that few consider ‘male jobs’ appealing in the current climate, and those that do are held back by prevailing attitudes, lack of flexible working practices, and patchy provision of advice and information services,” she said.

“Much can be done to rectify this situation. Government and key agencies have a crucial role to play in changing the attitudes of employers and women so that more people are able to fulfil their full potential.

“These changes would bring enormous benefits for employers and the economy as well as give many more women the chance to do the work they enjoy and aspire to,” Turgoose added.


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