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Issues for Women Returners in the 21st Century

Thinking points

1. Many of the jobs that women do now, in shops and offices for example, will either not be there or will have changed out of all recognition by the time they return to work. What can we do to help women anticipate and prepare for this situation?

2. The increased variety of work arrangements could bring benefits to employers and employees alike, but how can we ensure that women do not have a disproportionate share of the less well paid, less secure part of a two-tier work-force?

3. As women are having their children at a later stage, it follows that they will be older when they return. They will, however, have more years of early experience. How can we factor these aspects into the debate when looking at issues around returners and ageism?

4. There are clear indications of a growth in jobs at the managerial/professional level and for carer roles, but fewer in women's traditional areas of clerical/secretarial and sales assistants. How can we help women to be more aware of where new opportunities will lie and enable then to build on their existing skills during any break in employment to give them the best chance of making a good return to the workforce?

5. We need to think how to build 'return to work' strategies and advice into educational programmes for mature women students. How can we ensure that there is appropriate advice and perhaps other incentives, before the course starts, to encourage women to broaden their range of subject choices? How can we best meet the education needs of women from the ethnic communities, particularly Moslem women?

6. The pattern for the majority of women's working lives - episodes of work interspersed with breaks for caring responsibilities, education, and so one - is forecast to become the norm for the workforce as a whole. In these circumstances, it will be even more difficult for employers to justify the disparity between pay for women and men. At the same time, the competency movement aims to support a focus on achievement rather than time served. How can we ensure these matters really do inform pay strategies so that women returners, and women in general, are fairly paid for work done?

7. Paternity and parental policies are now being introduced into employment conditions, which, by supporting wider family roles for men, should allow women to change their roles too. However we cannot afford to wait nearly 30 years, as in Finland, before this becomes the norm. How can we support and encourage these changing roles?

8. With the widespread changes in the work-scene, being a returner in the 21st Century should be unexceptional. How can we ensure that appropriate exit, in-touch, training and updating, as well as re-entry processes are widely available to all returners, women and men?

9. Women are well placed to benefit from the structural changes taking place in the labour market. How can we ensure that their needs and life style influence employment policies and practices? And how can we capitalise on the opportunities afforded by the changes taking place in work, for the benefit of all?

Source: "Our Working Future Issues for Returners in the 21st Century" 'A Report for The Women Returners' Network by Christine Camp May 1999 Learning in the 21st Century Learning in The 21st Century

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