STEM Returners is calling on industry leaders to do more to support professionals following a career break
Bias against race, age and gender is preventing STEM professionals who have had a career break return to employment, according to a new survey by STEM Returners.
The STEM Returners Index 2023, published during National Inclusion Week (25 September to 1 October), showed women trying to return to the engineering industry after a career break are more likely to experience recruitment bias than men.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of women said they felt they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared with 9% of men.
In the survey, professionals from minority ethnic backgrounds represented a large proportion (39%) of candidates attempting to return to work in 2023. They were twice as likely as all other ethnic groups (34% vs average of 17%) to feel they have experienced bias in a recruitment process related to race or ethnicity.
Both men (29%) and women (25%) said they felt they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their age. As a result, 30% of returners say their personal confidence has been affected by the recruitment challenges they face, and their low confidence remains a barrier.
The Index asked more than 1,000 STEM professionals on a career break a range of questions to understand their experiences of trying to re-enter the STEM sector.
However, the latest results show some progress. In 2022, 29% of women said they felt bias due to their gender (5% more than this year) and overall, 38% of returners felt they had experienced bias in a recruitment process, compared with 33% this year.
In 2022, 65% of participants said they found the process of getting back to work difficult or very difficult, but this year it was just over half (51%) of participants.
Natalie Desty, founder and director of STEM Returners, said that while progress should be celebrated, there was still a lot of work to be done, especially in helping returners who are residents in the UK and eligible to work, transfer the skills and experience they have acquired internationally.
She said: “For the first year since we launched the STEM Returners Index, we have seen that candidates are finding it slightly easier to return to work than they were this time last year. This is positive news but there are still too many people finding it an uphill battle.
“There are skills gaps across the engineering, tech and green jobs sectors – these gaps are growing, and the UK needs a diverse, agile and innovative STEM workforce more than ever. This talented and committed group of professionals are ready to help fill those roles. But they are still facing recruitment bias against their race, age, gender, and a perceived lack of experience.
“Women and professionals from minority ethnic backgrounds still face a significant disadvantage when attempting to return. People from minority ethnic backgrounds were 50% more likely than white British candidates to say they were finding the process of returning ‘very difficult’. This has to change.
“Additionally, we are seeing people who have moved to the UK from overseas are finding it difficult to transfer their international skills and experience to UK positions."
Desty added: “Industry leaders need to do more to update recruitment practices and challenge unconscious bias to give returners a fair chance to rejoin the industry they are passionate about.”