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The STEM Returners Index 2022 | STEM Returners

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The STEM Returners Index is an annual survey with UK STEM professionals who are on a career break, attempting to return to work or recently returned.

We know that STEM professionals on career breaks face hidden barriers when attempting to return to work. The STEM Returners Index aims to further understand these barriers, track the progress UK STEM industries are making with solving them, and shine a light on the change needed to create fair opportunities for all.

This year we are pleased to launch the 2nd annual STEM Returners Index, based on a survey completed by over 1000 STEM professionals in April 2022.


Returning to work, recruitment bias, Unhappy woman with resume rejected by employer vector flat illustration.

Recruitment bias preventing talented engineers from returning to work after a career break

Returning to work, recruitment bias, Unhappy woman with resume rejected by employer vector flat illustration.

Bias in the recruitment process prevents STEM professionals who have had a career break return to employment, according to a new survey by STEM Returners.

The STEM Returners Index, published on International Women in Engineering Day, showed bias against age, gender and lack of recent experience to be the main barriers to entry.

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.

of women feel they've experienced bias in recruitment

of women think childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning to work

of men more likely to be victim of age-related bias

Nearly a third of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to seven per cent of men.

Despite 39 per cent of females wanting to return to work due to children now being of school age, 40 per cent of females still feel childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning due to lack of flexibility offered by employers.

In the survey, men (46 per cent) were more likely to be victim of bias because of their age compared to women (38 per cent). Bias also appears to become more prevalent with age, with more than half of over 55’s saying they have experienced personal bias, compared to as low as 23 per cent in younger age groups.

The Index also asked returners about the impact of Covid on their experience. 34 per cent said the pandemic made getting back to work more difficult than it would have been already. It would also appear that for many people, Covid was the catalyst for a career break that they might not have taken otherwise, as 36 per cent said Covid was a factor in their decision to take a career break. Redundancy was also on the rise year on year as a reason for career breaks according to the results.

STEM Returners has conducted the STEM Returners Index for the past two years. The programme helps highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals return to work after a career break by working with employers to facilitate paid short-term employment placements. More than 260 engineers have returned to work through the scheme across the UK since it began in 2017.

Speaking about the findings, Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said, “We know that the engineering sector faces a significant skills shortage and yet this group of talented and dedicated individuals are still overlooked.”

“It’s disappointing to see that 66 per cent of STEM professionals on a career break are finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult and that nearly half (46 per cent) of participants said they felt bias because of a lack of recent experience.”

“This situation is being made even harder with more redundancies and more people wanting to return to work due to uncertainty about the economy and the rising cost of living leading to a wider pool of potential returners.”

“There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills.”

“But the reality is, that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, can refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that would actually benefit their employers.”

“Industry leaders need to do more to update recruitment practices and challenge unconscious bias to help those who are finding it challenging to return to the sector and improve diversity and inclusion within their organisations.”

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WeAreTechWomen Survey (800 x 600 px)

WeAreTechWomen are proud to release our recommendations from our Barriers for Women in Tech research

WeAreTechWomen Survey

Last year, WeAreTechWomen partnered with Ipsos MORI and the Tech Talent Charter to look at the barriers women face in the tech industry. We are proud to release our recommendations from this research, publicly for the first time.

Women in tech infographic W800pxThe research canvassed the views of 369 women across a multitude of sectors. The findings included in the infographic show that 1 in 5 women in tech are thinking of leaving their jobs. With just 21% of women working in the tech industry*, if they chose to leave this would have a significant impact in terms of female representation in the sector. The findings also highlighted that 58% of respondents said that visible role models are one of the things that attract them to organisations but noted the lack of female representation at the top of their organisations. The other key finding was that only a third felt that processes and systems were in place to prepare them for promotion.

Mentorship was highly attributed to aid career progression; however, sponsorship opportunities appear to be lacking, with only 1 in 5 stating they have access to sponsorship programmes. Of those who did have access to sponsorship, 55% of them said it has greatly benefitted their career.  With regard to male allies, over 75% of survey respondents stated that at least some men are not allies, two thirds of whom finding that men talk over them or don’t listen in meetings. Only 19% of those surveyed see all or most men as allies, with 85% citing the best way to demonstrate allyship is by giving credit for achievements. It is no surprise that 29% of our respondents also stated they have experienced sexism or gender bias in some form. It is also interesting to see that salary has now become the main driver in terms of women joining a tech organisation (84%), followed by supportive managers (83%) and an inclusive culture (76%).

*Source: 2019 ONS data

“The research data shows mixed results. There is good news that those tech women surveyed are attracted to organisations by higher salaries and supportive managers. And while one in five are considering leaving their current roles, this is broadly in line with other current data across sectors around the “Great Resignation” – and 80% actually intend to remain in a tech role or in the tech sector. That’s positive for organisations which are being proactive about their gender balance efforts, but it still has the potential to cause significant damage to the overall sector representation which is starting from such a low base. The report highlights that the tech women surveyed are flagging issues about a lack of clarity and transparency around career paths in their organisations. While mentoring appears to be of some benefit, it’s not enough – and only 49% are aware of what sponsorship relationships are. Depressingly in this day and age, more than half of respondents (52%) still feel that their gender limits them in their careers.”


While it is deeply frustrating to see the numbers of women in tech at a plateau, there is much in this report to be optimistic about, IF you are an employer who is willing to act on it. We can see that women can be attracted to tech, can love tech, can be very successful and will want to stay in tech IF we as employers get it right. It is great to see that salary is being called out as a key factor, emphasising the positive impact and ongoing need for gender pay reporting. It is also positive to see other things that employers with smaller budgets can do to get it right in terms of transparent promotion structures, mentoring and sponsorship as well as good management and culture. The talent gap continues to grow and women are key to filling it. There are great actionable insights here, but it requires leadership, commitment and action. Every company willing to do this will reap the benefits.


Debbie Forster

“Few disagree that better gender balance is better for the technology industry and those working in the myriad of tech functions within every business. As with all companies addressing similar challenges, there is no silver bullet which will bring overnight change. However, this research highlights the potential cost of doing nothing (1 in 5 women working in tech are thinking of leaving their current role). This is not about fixing women. This is more about fixing the environment and culture in which they work. Transparency of promotion opportunities, increased awareness of bias (conscious and unconscious) and policies that acknowledge the distinctive needs of working women could all have material impact on women’s likelihood to remain within an organisation. Ipsos has been proud to partner with WeAreTheCity to give leaders in tech some clear actions that will improve the gender balance in their organisations.”


Sue Phillips

If you are interested in receiving a copy of the full report, please complete the below form. Once complete, a copy of the report will be emailed to you.

Barriers to Women in Tech Report

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Keep in touch

Level Up Summit 2022

06 DECEMBER 2022

We built the Level Up summit around the findings of this research, to highlight the issues women face and empower their careers.

Join us for keynotes, panels, Q&A’s and breakout sessions where we will be providing opportunities for our delegates to obtain an understanding of the key skills they will need to move in to more senior positions.


Cyber security skills in the UK labour market 2021

This is a summary of research into the UK cyber security labour market, carried out on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The research explores the nature and extent of cyber security skills gaps (people lacking appropriate skills) and skills shortages (a lack of people available to work in cyber security job roles) using a mixture of:

  • Representative surveys with cyber sector businesses and the wider population of UK organisations (businesses, charities and public sector organisations – with this summary focusing on businesses)
  • Qualitative research with recruitment agents, cyber firms and large organisations in various sectors
  • A secondary analysis of cyber security job postings on the Burning Glass Technologies database


Understanding the cyber security recruitment pool

cybersecurity, cyber crime

Ipsos MORI and Perspective Economics have been commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to undertake research to quantify and provide understanding of the cyber skills recruitment pool in the UK.

The research aims to gain a better understanding of the cyber skills recruitment pool in the UK, its size and geographic location, the types of skills and experience that are prevalent in the pool and recommendations on how employers can effectively recruit from the pool.


Artificial intelligence. Human head outline with circuit board inside, AI

Understanding the UK AI labour market: 2020

Artificial intelligence. Human head outline with circuit board inside, AI

This report presents findings from research into the UK Artificial Intelligence (AI) labour market, carried out by Ipsos MORI, in association with Perspective Economics, Warwick University, and the Queen’s University Belfast, on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS).

The research aimed to create a set of recommendations on policy areas that the government and industry should focus on, to bridge skills gaps in the sector. It involved:

  • A survey of 118 firms and public sector organisations, including those whose core business was developing AI-led products or services, and others in wider sectors developing or using AI tools, technologies or techniques to improve their products, services or internal processes;
  • A total of 50 in-depth interviews with firms, public sector organisations, recruitment agencies, employees and aspiring employees, universities and course providers;
  • Analysis of AI job postings on the Burning Glass Technologies database; and
  • A roundtable discussion with stakeholders from across government, the private and public sector to validate the findings.


Diversity in Tech 2021 Report | Tech Talent Charter


The Tech Talent Charter (TTC) is committed to securing the future of the tech talent pipeline.

A key driver of this is the annual Diversity in Tech report, which showcases curated diversity and inclusion (D&I) data we amass from our Signatory base of companies with tech needs in the United Kingdom.

The purpose of this survey is to harness the power of data to help organisations make significant headway in this critical growth area. When UK businesses are willing to share good D&I data — what’s actually working or not working for them — it yields deep, nuanced insights that can benefit Signatories, other organisations, and more broadly the UK economy and society. As such, another aim of this report is to inspire more business leaders to share their D&I data with us so we can create a more nuanced and complete picture of the state of diversity and inclusion.


One Tech World Virtual Conference 2022

01 APRIL 2022

Book your place now & join Debbie Forster MBE, CEO, Tech Talent Charter at our One Tech World conference.


BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

Priorities for the National AI Strategy | BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

BCS, The Chartered Institute for ITAs we recover from the pandemic and adapt to being outside of the EU, the UK needs to harness the power of digital technologies to deliver step-changes in resilience, productivity, innovation, and sustainable growth across the private and public sectors.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be at the heart of driving this transformation, provided we have the right national strategy in place, building on and amplifying the government’s earlier National Data Strategy and taking account of the current AI Council Roadmap.

The AI strategy will need to consider a number of complex and interconnected issues. These include how AI is going to be used to deliver the right societal outcomes for UK citizens, particularly how it enables the UK to be more inclusive, accelerates sustainable decarbonisation and improves prosperity for all.


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The Key to Designing Inclusive Tech | Capgemini

capgemini featured

Digital technologies are increasingly embedded in all aspects of human life.

With the integration of these technologies into products and services, exclusionary and biased outputs are also increasingly common, including biases and discrimination from AI-enabled systems. Against this backdrop, there has been a rising demand for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workforce, especially in technology teams that develop and deploy the technologies with which end users interact. Do organisations understand the interplay between inclusion and diversity of tech workforce and the inclusive design of technologies?


Could you help Birkbeck, University of London & Genius Within in their Autism at Work study?

Diverse group of stylish people standing together. Society or population, social diversity

Could you help Birkbeck, University of London & Genius Within understand the employment picture in the UK, USA and Australia, where Autism At Work programs are popular?

The aim of the study is to explore the experience of people who are part of Autism at Work specific programs and compare this to the experience of autistic people who are not part of these programs.

Taking part

Birkbeck, University of London & Genius Within are looking for autistic adults to take part. If you would like to be involved in the study, please complete the questionnaire here. This should take approximately 15 minutes.

Upon completion, you will be provided with a debrief. You may also decide to volunteer for follow up interviewing to share your experiences. If so, you can provide contact details at the end of the questionnaire. If you don't, your contact details will not be collected and you will remain anonymous.

Data collected in this study will be analysed and used for research, publication and policy guidance for employers.


WeAreTechWomen covers the latest female centric news stories from around the world, focusing on women in technology, careers and current affairs. You can find all the latest gender news here.

Don’t forget, you can also follow us via our social media channels for the latest up-to-date gender news. Click to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.