Workplace

Beyond childcare: the hidden barriers for women returning to work

How Future Women and HESTA are helping women return to work, on terms that suit their needs.

By Indy Bailey

Workplace

How Future Women and HESTA are helping women return to work, on terms that suit their needs.

By Indy Bailey

They’re the four words that dominated the Albanese government’s recent Jobs Summit: boosting women’s workforce participation.

It’s a well overdue conversation, and increased focus on affordable childcare and pay equity is certainly welcome. But these are not the only things standing in the way of Australian women’s full participation in the workforce.

Nine months ago, Future Women launched Jobs Academy, our pilot program designed to connect unemployed and underemployed women with secure, meaningful work. Since then, we’ve learnt a great deal about the compounding barriers that stand in the way of job-ready women returning to work.

These barriers might not make their way into conversation at a national Jobs Summit, but they are keeping a goldmine of capable and talented candidates out of the race.

In collaborating with HESTA on the Future Women Talent Program – a returnship program designed for Jobs Academy members – we set out to dismantle as many of these barriers as we could.

The result? A talented group of women have just begun a 16-week placement with one of Australia’s leading industry super funds.

It was a natural alignment with HESTA from the beginning, with company CEO Debby Blakey leading the 40:40 Vision initiative to achieve greater gender balance in executive leadership teams across Australia. Over at Jobs Academy, we value companies like HESTA that put their words and commitments into action.

So what does walking the walk look like when it comes to hiring?

Working closely with HESTA’s GM of Talent, Culture and Capability, Lizzy Keenan and Talent Acquisition Lead, Jamila Malkoun, the first step involved the job description.

The Harvard Business Review reports that women only apply for a job when they meet 100 per cent of the specifications listed, whilst men throw their hat in the ring at the 60 per cent mark. That’s why HESTA write skills and activity based job descriptions, like this one:

Is your super-skill that you are organised, detailed and a great planner? Our team needs support updating and maintaining policies and procedures, reporting and keeping up-to-date with risk and compliance checklists and obligations.

Then comes the application process. Returning to work after a career break can be daunting, and nerves can knock candidates off-kilter in a job interview at the best of times. With this in mind, HESTA’s expert recruitment team makes the extra effort to ensure candidates feel comfortable, with interviews framed as a conversation, rather than a test.

Here’s the thing about career breaks: if you’ve spent them tending to caring responsibilities, those duties don’t just evaporate the moment you return to work.

But what if nerves mean that you don’t even make it to the interview, for fear that you won’t be able to re-adjust to office life quick enough? The Future Women Talent Program was designed as a returnship program to signal to candidates they wouldn’t be thrown in the deep end on day one, and could take a moment to adjust.

Because here’s the thing about career breaks: if you’ve spent them tending to caring responsibilities, those duties don’t just evaporate the moment you return to work. The Future Women Talent Program is offered to candidates in a full or part-time capacity, with flexible working arrangements available.

And one of the biggest barriers for job-ready women? The dizzying prospect of combing through the tens of thousands of vacancies on LinkedIn, Seek, Indeed and wherever else the internet can fit them all. Jobs Academy helps cut through the noise by connecting employers directly to a pool of talented, job-ready women set to swell to the thousands by next year.

Jamila wants employers to ‘think outside the box in today’s very tight candidate market, to explore capability, not just experience, and to really look at development opportunities and role flexibility’.

HESTA’s partnership with Jobs Academy has allowed Jamila and her team to tap into a network of talented and experienced candidates, and develop tailored long-term talent strategies.

‘I was so proud when we made offers to five incredibly talented women who were excited about being given an opportunity to return to the workforce after many years,’ shared Jamila.