Article by Natalie Gibbings, Head of Talent at Aiimi

We know women are underrepresented across the technology industry, and there are many schemes to promote careers in tech to school-age girls and women working in other industries.

But what happens when women leave the tech sector, whether that’s to move to another industry, to have children, due to illness, or to care for family members? No matter the reason or length of the break, how do we encourage women to come back to the tech industry?

Retaining skillsets, perspectives, and insight

With so much focus on encouraging women to start a career in tech, it’s also vital to ensure women leaving the industry know that there is space for them to return when they feel the time is right. One of the key challenges we come across is the confidence factor. The tech sector is heavily male-dominated, and it’s also an ever-changing, fast-moving sector. The responsibility falls on businesses to create a hiring process and culture that give women a feeling of belonging and confidence in their place within the industry.

Authenticity is key

It’s not enough for your Diversity, Equity & Inclusion leads to be the only ones focusing on company culture; your culture should be baked into the entire business, and everyone should be an advocate for the company’s values. This is essential to a STEM returner’s journey back to the tech sector. As with any hiring process, it’s not just about skill-matching—it’s about understanding that person as an individual, to find true alignment in what you offer as a business and what we look for in our people.

How can organisations ensure they are encouraging STEM returners?

We should never make assumptions about STEM returners’ needs. We should educate ourselves by having proactive conversations with women who’ve returned to tech and with organisations closer to the ground, to understand what creates that feeling of belonging and what encourages women to apply for a role.

This supportive recruitment process starts right from the job advert. The language should be jargon-free and inclusive. We should focus on skills, attributes, and alignment, rather than on years of experience. In the interview process, it’s important that we tailor our approach to the individual, to ensure that person is enabled to perform at their best, while still having checks and measures in place. By creating an environment where a person feels comfortable to express themselves, we get true insight into what they can bring to the business. This approach doesn’t just apply to STEM returners, but to everyone we interview.

STEM returners may still have to manage responsibilities related to the reason for their career break, so there should be flexibility in terms of when, where, and how an interview takes place. By giving people a choice, they’re empowered to interview in a way that works for them.

Creating relatable mentors for future generations

Encouraging women back into tech can also have a huge impact on those just starting their careers. STEM returners should be mentors, providing advice, support, and relatability. Encouraging women to return to tech will not only benefit the industry now; it will also create more opportunities for future generations of women to bring fresh perspectives, expand our thinking, and provoke important conversations in the tech industry.

About the author

Natalie GibbingsNatalie Gibbings is Head of Talent at Aiimi, a data and AI company in Milton Keynes. She has over a decade of experience across multiple industries, including tech, finance, and property, working both in the UK and globally. Natalie has led the development and implementation of talent acquisition, retention, and management strategies. She is passionate about Aiimi’s culture and the candidate experience, with a focus on true alignment between company and candidate.