Tapping into the pool of skilled women looking to return to the workforce

Less conventional hiring routes can pay dividends in a tight labour market

At first glance Dell Ireland, which employs 5,000 people, and Irish-owned Ultan Technologies, which employs 14, don't have much in common. However, both face exactly the same issue right now: how to find high-calibre staff in a tight labour market.

And to address this, both have taken a less conventional route to hiring with some success. Specifically, they have used the Women ReBoot programme, an initiative of Technology Ireland Digital Skillnet, to tap into the talents of experienced women who have taken career breaks and want to return to the workforce.

So far, Ultan Technologies has recruited four women through ReBoot while Dell took on 11 returners in 2019 and a further 19 earlier this year with a view to placing them in full-time roles. Another Dell programme is planned for the fourth quarter.

ReBoot is aimed at women with previous experience in information and communications technology (ICT) and involves a free four-week programme to refresh their business and technical skills. This is followed by paid work placement with one of 50-plus technology companies involved with the programme including Flipdish, Mastercard and Citibank.

Talent avenue

ReBoot's director, Kathryn Cullen, stresses that the programme offers a talent avenue to all companies regardless of size but that the programme provides small and medium enterprises in particular with a means of recruiting high-calibre employees they might struggle to compete for on the open market.

It also means returners can choose between joining a large organisation with all the benefits that brings or a smaller organisation where they may be able to make a bigger impact faster.

ReBoot has been running since 2016. Since then, 251 women have taken part and 84 per cent of their placements have converted into full-time jobs. Another 40 women have signed up for the next intake.

The length of time someone has been away from paid employment is generally not an issue. Some participants have been out of the workplace for up to 15 years. And for women not from an ICT background who would like to move into technology, there’s an alternative conversion programme on offer called Women TechStart.

"I don't understand why it's so difficult for women to come back into the workforce after only a two-year career break in some cases. It baffles me," says Claire Chung, chief information officer at Citibank Europe. "We take graduates all the time with no experience, yet people with so much experience find it difficult to come back in.

“Citi has taken six candidates from the Women ReBoot programme, and are passionate about continuing to support it.”

Recruitment bias

ReBoot is also a way for women to navigate the bias that can exist in conventional recruitment channels towards those who have taken time out. Recent research from ReBoot shows that just more than 50 per cent of returning women had experienced bias while job hunting and 63 per cent said that, despite being very proactive in their search (applying for 20 roles or more), they hardly ever or never received feedback on their applications.

Ultan Technologies founder, Cathal Brady, says his motivation for considering women returners was to find good people for his growing energy software management business.

“I am interested in building diversity within the company and before using ReBoot I had already taken on two women who had been on career breaks. I found them to be very skilled and committed so I was open to the idea of recruiting more,” he says.

“In my experience, they get back up to speed very quickly – much faster than graduates who take time to be productive – because the skills they have are transferable. Technology may have moved on in the time they were away, but the basic structures they are familiar with have not. They pick up the running on the elements that have changed very quickly.”

Diversity

Building a diverse workforce is also a key reason why Dell became involved with ReBoot.

"We try to operate in a spirit of openness to talent wherever it comes from and we are interested in any initiative that opens up and empowers a wide representation of talent streams," says talent acquisition director Gareth Cullen.

“As a company, our aim is to be significantly gender diverse in our workforce and management, and our moonshot goals are to be 50 per cent gender diverse across our global organisation and to have 40 per cent women in leadership roles by 2030 if not before.

“One of the main drivers for this is to attain diversity of thought. The link between diversity and innovation is well documented. It makes business sense and it creates a more vibrant work culture.”

The age of the women participating in the Dell programme is late 20s to those in their 50s and Cullen says the programme works particularly well because elements of the training can be tweaked for individual needs.

“Over the four weeks, the women pick up a new range of skills to layer on top of what they already know and we should never underestimate the extent of their existing knowledge in areas such as soft skills and their ability to work with people,” he says. “These are skills and attributes that are vitally important and very much aligned to the future of work in areas such as relationship ability, agility and flexibility, emotional intelligence and a curious mindset.

“We find that the biggest barrier to return is not ability. It’s confidence. The training provides the comfort the women need to feel confident in their own capabilities again.”