Press Release | 20 May 2021

Time away from the workplace hits women’s confidence twice as hard as men, report finds

A new report by WPI Strategy for Vodafone has found that time spent away from the workplace could lead to a significant loss in confidence, with figures revealing that women are twice as likely as men to be impacted.

The report also finds that women returning to work are likely to face bigger challenges when it comes to balancing caring responsibilities and meeting the cost of childcare.

The findings are part of a study – Lost Connections: Supporting Returners into the workplace in 2021 and beyond – published today by Vodafone UK, which examines how employers need to go further to support the millions of people returning to work after an extended period away.

The findings may also have implications for the millions of furloughed workers and those returning to the workplace after more than a year of remote working.

The report includes polling from Survation of more than 1,000 people who had returned to work after an absence of a year or more. Key findings include:

  • Over a third (37%) of those returning to the workplace after a year or more away experience a loss of confidence in their own ability. This loss of confidence is almost twice as prevalent for women as for men, with 42% of women lacking confidence in their own ability compared to 24% of men.
  • Just under a third (31%) of women returners said they found it hard to reacclimatise to working life following such a long break, compared to 25% of men.
  • 71% of returners said they felt cut off from the world of work during their time away from it, with younger workers aged 18-24 particularly impacted (74%, compared to 65% of those aged 45-64).

Infographic illustrating the challenges facing women returning to work after a career break

While the polling explored the views of people who may have taken time out of work before the pandemic, it could be highly relevant for the millions of people across the UK who have been out of an office environment or furloughed during COVID-19.

The research also finds that women returning after a career break face bigger challenges than men in balancing work with caring responsibilities and meeting the cost of childcare:

  • Balancing work with caring responsibilities was a challenge for 41% of returners, and was felt more keenly by women (45%) than men (30%).
  • 40% of all returners said the cost of childcare was a challenge. This was cited by 46% of women returners, compared to 23% of men.

An infographic showing the different challenges facing male and female returners

The report highlights the need to support returners, and especially female returners who have the potential to contribute over £1 billion to the UK economy, and to make sure the challenges they face are properly addressed.

The report argues that employers and the government need to provide greater support to encourage people who may have taken a career break back into the workforce; and calls for the Government to allocate part of the £2.5bn National Skills Fund to help returners develop the appropriate skills.

It also suggests employers are open-minded about gaps in individuals’ CVs during the recruitment process and provide additional support systems for returners. The reports also reflects on the benefits of remote and flexible working seen during the pandemic, and suggests these should, where feasible, continue post pandemic.

Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and External Affairs Director Vodafone UK, said:

“As a society, we can and must do more to make it easier for people who have taken a career break to re-enter the workplace, once they are ready.

“Supporting returners helps organisations bridge skills shortages and improve retention and diversity, while supporting those individuals and the wider economy. At Vodafone, we recognise the value that returners bring and initiatives like our ReConnect programme help support talented individuals back into work.

“As workplaces continue to adapt and evolve, it is the responsibility of employers to support returners both while they are away and once they return.”

Laura Farris MP, Co-Chair of the Women and Work All-Party Parliamentary Group, said:

“It’s clear that supporting people who have taken a career break, particularly women, back into work can deliver significant economic benefits as well as improve an organisation’s retention rate and diversity.

“It is hugely encouraging to see businesses like Vodafone (which are headquartered in Newbury) leading the way in this work by recognising the value of returners and putting in place schemes like ReConnect to support their return.

“This agenda is even more pressing now given the economic impact of COVID-19 and the number of people who have been out of an office environment or furloughed over the last year.”

 Julianne Miles MBE, CEO, Women Returners, said:

“The pressures of the pandemic have caused 2.3 million women in the US, particularly working mothers, to leave the workforce. In the UK, women who have taken a career break due to COVID-19-related factors will swell the ranks of talented returners who face major hurdles when they want to resume their careers.

“Bringing this talent back into suitable employment will require a united effort from employers, Government and support organisations. So we welcome this report and particularly the recommendations for employers to be more open-minded in recruitment and the UK Government to ringfence funding for returners.”

Professor Rosie Campbell, Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, said:

“Right now, it is more important than ever to ensure that women returning to work can do so with confidence that they will be supported in inclusive workplaces. The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and remedying this will be essential to economic recovery.

“This report shows that a renewed emphasis on employee engagement and wellbeing, and that supporting those who have taken time out of their careers, must be at the heart of recruitment and retention strategies going forward.”

Notes to editors

These findings are contained in a new Vodafone UK report – Lost Connections: Supporting Returners into the workplace in 2021 and beyond – which demonstrates the struggles facing those returning to the workplace after a year or more away.

A poll of 1,084 UK residents, aged 18+ who have returned to work following an absence of one year or more, was carried out by Survation in October 2020 to support this report.

WPI Strategy is one of the UK’s leading political communications consultancies, with a track record of delivering high impact public affairs campaigns. It offers senior strategic counsel and works extensively with its sister company, WPI Economics, to ensure that campaigns are underpinned by evidence-based content.

Vodafone’s ReConnect recruitment programme is designed to support candidates as they return to work after a career break of more than a year. The scheme offers five days pay for four days work for the first six months to support the transition, as well as access to wide a range of learning resources, support from line managers and coaching.

For more information, please contact:

Vodafone UK Media Relations Team

Tel: 01635 693693




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About Vodafone UK

Vodafone UK is a technology communications company that connects people, businesses and devices to help our customers benefit from digital innovation. Our services span mobile, fixed-line connections, home and office broadband, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

We have a strong track record as a tech pioneer, making the UK’s first mobile phone call, sending the first text message, and making the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G in 2018. We were the first to start carrying live 5G traffic from a site in Salford, Greater Manchester and now have 5G in locations across Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain as well as the UK. Meanwhile, our 4G network coverage currently reaches over 99% of the UK population.

Today, Vodafone serves more than 18 million mobile and fixed-line customers in the UK. Vodafone is the largest provider of full fibre in the UK – our superfast broadband services are now available to nearly 12 million homes across the UK.

Sustainability is also at the heart of what we do: as of 1 July 2021, 100% of the grid electricity we use in the UK is certified to be from renewable sources.

For more information about Vodafone UK, please visit:

Vodafone UK Media Relations

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