Thames Tideway Tunnel returnship success

Great news! All seven ‘returners’ have been offered positions following completion of the first engineering/construction sector returnship, the Tideway Returner Programme, on which we partnered with Thames Tideway Tunnel.

The programme ran for 12 weeks from April-July and was the first UK returnship to run outside the financial sector. Participants were from diverse professional backgrounds and had taken career breaks of between 2 and 17 years. All have now been offered ongoing roles, in a variety of areas, from legal to finance to communications to engineering project management.

Participant feedback
Rachel Tomkins, who has taken up the role of Operations Manager after completing the returnship, said: “The past 12 weeks have provided me with an invaluable opportunity to prove myself in the workplace after a considerable career break. With Thames Tideway Tunnel and Women Returners, we’ve been offered great mentoring support and advice to successfully make the transition back to full time work. I am absolutely thrilled to have been offered a permanent role on such an exciting project and I hope many more women and companies can benefit from this scheme.”

Business Sponsor feedback
Julie Thornton, Head of HR at Thames Tideway Tunnel, said: “We have been delighted with our first cohort of returners; each has been a huge asset to our team over the past 12 weeks, demonstrated by the fact they have all landed positions on the project. I hope this encourages other engineering and construction companies to follow suit, and to realise they could be missing out on a hugely valuable pool of talent.”

Evidence of success
The programme success adds to the growing body of evidence that experienced professionals can quickly and effectively contribute to the workforce even after a very long career break. This is not news to us, but is vital information to challenge the stereotypes that still blind so many employers and recruiters to the talent they are missing by bypassing candidates with a CV gap.

Posted by Julianne

Returnship Q&A: The employer’s perspective

As Thames Tideway Tunnel’s new Returner Programme deadline approaches next Friday, Women Returners interviewed Tideway’s Head of HR, Julie Thornton, to get her perspective on the business rationale for launching this innovative returnship, together with some information and advice for would-be applicants. 
WR: What is your motivation for setting up the Tideway
Returner Programme? What is the appeal of returning professionals to your
JT: As a company, we are looking to increase the diversity
of our workforce and this seemed an ideal way of doing so. Thames Tideway
Tunnel is very active with early careers activities, graduates and
apprenticeships, and the Returner Programme gives
us the opportunity to fill an obvious gap – targeting
and encouraging individuals who want to get back to a career after
taking a break. We see returning professionals as a
strong female talent pool which we are keen to access.
WR: What can participants expect on the programme?
JT: They will experience a fulfilling role within the
project, at an exciting time in our history as we move towards actually
starting construction after more than 10 years of planning. They will also be
fully supported by the management team to get them up to speed, have a
dedicated mentor and receive expert coaching and support from Women Returners.
WR: Is your organisation expanding? Will there be ongoing job
opportunities after the programme?
JT: In brief, yes. There are lots of vacancies currently
on the project and there will continue to be over the coming months so this is
an ideal time for people to join the project, get a feel for what we are about
and apply for the roles they are interested in.
WR: In what other ways does Thames Tideway Tunnel support the
careers of female employees?
JT: Our CEO, Andy Mitchell, is committed to achieving
gender parity over the life of the project, and it is clear that to achieve this, we
need to be a company that all people want to work for. We
are focusing on getting the basics right, taking
the values we promote, particularly flexible and inclusive working, through to
practice. We also support employee-driven activities through our
inclusivity forum, Encompass, which runs networking
events and actively helps inform potential new policies or programmes.
WR: Do you see this programme as a one-off?
JT: No we are very much committed to making The Tideway Returner Programme a regular part of our
overall resourcing and diversity plan. This is just the start of something we
hope to see long into the future.
WR: How can people find out more and apply?
JT: Please visit for more information and details on how to apply.
What advice would you give to prospective applicants?
A: If you are intrigued or interested, send in your CV
because you have nothing to lose! Even if you aren’t successful on the
programme there may be other opportunities we can consider you for in the
Posted by Julianne

Morgan Stanley launches UK ‘returnship’ programme

We are delighted to report a new UK ‘returnship’ programme.

Morgan Stanley has just launched the Return to Work Programme London, a paid 12–week internship for professionals who have taken a career break and are looking to re-enter the workforce on a permanent basis.

Note: application deadline is Sunday 15th June 2014

The programme is based principally at the Firm’s London offices

24 September – 17 December 2014

Participants will be placed based on their skills and interests. A limited number of opportunities exist across the Firm in Commodities, Fixed Income, Finance, Global Capital Markets, Human Resources, Institutional Equities, Internal Audit, Investment Banking, Investment Management, Legal and Compliance, Operations, Research and Technology. On completion of the Programme, participants may receive an offer of permanent employment.

Qualifications, Skills and Requirements

  • Around five years or more experience in the financial services industry or other relevant areas
  • Interested in returning to the workforce on a permanent basis
  • Excellent leadership, interpersonal and communication skills
  • Problem solvers with strong analytical skills
Application Process and Deadlines
For further information and to apply see
The deadline is Sunday 15 June, 2014.
Posted by Julianne

Morgan Stanley London launches Return to Work workshop

Returnship programmes are taking off in the UK! Companies are recognising that returning
professionals are a strong talent pool and may need support to get back into
corporate roles.

Morgan Stanley have just announced a Return to Work workshop on 20th May, [note 5/5/14: applications closed] prior to launching their own ‘returnship’ programme in September.

Morgan Stanley’s workshop is targeted at professionals who:

  • have been out of the workforce for over 2 years, particularly those who have been caring for their family
  • have prior experience in financial services or a related professional field

The workshop will run from 10am-4pm at the Morgan Stanley office in London E14 and will include sessions on CV writing, preparing for interviews and networking. The workshop is focused on building up confidence and skills in preparation for applications and recruitment processes.

To apply send your CV and a covering letter explaining why you would like to participate in the workshop to:
The deadline is Monday 5th May. Places are limited and successful applicants will be notified by Monday 12th May.

Posted by Julianne

Returnships arrive in the UK: Credit Suisse Real Returns

We talked about the mutual benefits of returning professional internships (returnships) for returners and employers back in November. At that time we couldn’t identify any UK initiatives – all were US/India based. So we are delighted to report that the first UK returnship has just been launched by Credit Suisse in London – hopefully the first of many.

Real Returns: Restart Your Career At Credit Suisse

The Real Returns programme will run for 8-10 weeks starting on April 28th 2014 and is aimed at experienced professionals returning to the workplace after an extended absence. The application deadline is February 21st 2014 so if you’re interested, you’ll need to get an application in quickly.

The programme includes:

  • A short-term project-based assignment, working on an important initiative in one of the business areas. Projects will be based on your experience, interests and skills set
  • A series of orientation/training events
  • A programme mentor and a day-to-day project manager
  • The opportunity to broaden your network within your business area and to participate in events hosted by the bank’s diversity networks, including the EMEA Women’s Network and Family Network
For more information, including details of how to apply see:

Creating your own returnship

Returnships are a fantastic way of building confidence, skills and current experience in a short-term role before applying for more permanent positions. It’s a new concept in the UK so if it appeals, you may well have to get creative and develop your own. Here are some tips on how best to create your own.

1. Think about what you’re looking for

  • Are you looking to refresh skills and experience in an industry you previously worked in or to develop skills and experience in a new area?

2. Prepare

  • Do as much research as you can before you make any formal approaches. Speak to old colleagues or people working in the industry you are keen to enter, sign up for relevant e-newsletters and look at professional body websites or magazines.

3. Be clear on what you can offer

  • Remind yourself of your skills and achievements and update your CV.
  • Be realistic about the hours & days that you can be available and the length of project you will accept.
  • Can you afford to work free of charge? It is easier to gain opportunities if you aren’t a cost to the business. But if you are not charging for your time, you must be sure to clearly define the scope of the project to ensure it is valuable experience. You may be able to scale your offering – maybe begin with a couple of weeks of unpaid observation/shadowing, then offer to undertake a specific project review. If your proposal is well-received, you could negotiate to be paid to deliver it.

4. Identify your targets

  • Concentrate on using your network, including friends, family, other school parents, contacts from volunteer/community organisations and local businesses you deal with as well as old colleagues and clients (use LinkedIn and alumni groups to renew connections). Avoid ‘cold-call’ approaches.
  • Don’t just think about large companies. Smaller &/or local organisations may have more flexibility to accommodate an intern and to value more highly your professional skills and experience. You can also potentially make more impact.
  • Don’t rule out regular internships, particularly if you are looking to change career direction. Employers which use sites such as may be open to mid-career interns as well. Some charities such as Cancer Research offer (unpaid) internships which they state are also open to career changers.

5. Develop your pitch

  • Prepare your ‘pitch’. What are you asking for (a short-term consulting project, specific work experience)? What are you hoping to achieve? How could you benefit the organisation that you are contacting? Practise this with family and friends.

6. Be brave

  • Often the hardest part is the initial approach. Remember that you have little to lose and a lot to gain.

7. Check the details

  • If you get the go-ahead, be clear about the scope and timing of what you will be doing.
  • Make sure that any work you do will look meaningful on your CV, with a specific outcome that you can talk about at future interviews. Aim for work at a professional level, using your skills and experience.
  • Establish a ‘go-to’ person within the organisation with whom you can discuss your experience and ask for advice if you come up against unexpected challenges.

8. Create a good ending

  • At the end of the project, leave the door open for future opportunities or projects. Connect with everyone you worked with via LinkedIn.
  • Arrange a review with the person who managed you for feedback about what you did particularly well and gaps they saw in your skills. Develop an action plan for any additional work or learning you need to do before you start looking for permanent roles.

You can read a few real-life examples of how UK returners have successfully created their own internships on our website: Stephanie and Fiona.

We would be really interested to hear from you if you have experience of a returnship. Did it work well for you? Did it help you to find a permanent role? Maybe you work for an organisation that has hosted such a programme – was it valuable for the business? Please get in touch with your stories…

Guest Blog by Tamsin Crook from Making Careers Work

Returnships: what are they & where can you find them?

We’re glad to see that the debate on UK gender equality is filtering down from board-level to mid-career, recognising the broader issues facing women in the corporate world … including the difficulties for women returners of getting back into a corporate role after many years out. Last week Newton Investment CEO Helena Morrissey called for employers to develop ‘returnships’ to give women routes back into work after a career break.
So what is a returnship?
A returnship is a professional internship designed specifically for people (usually women) returning after an extended career break. It’s a short-term position drawing on existing skills and experience, and may be supplemented with relevant training courses. It gives a chance for the returner to build their confidence and gain recent CV experience, while practically testing out the role and whether they want to return to a demanding corporate job. From the employer’s side, they have access to the skills of an experienced professional and a low-risk way of assessing the returner as a potential longer-term employee.
Are they worth doing?
It seems like a great idea – does it work in practice? Many programmes have successful track records. Goldman Sachs in the US (which trademarked the term ‘returnship’) has been running a programme since 2008, initially in New York and also in India in 2014. It’s for professionals looking to restart their careers after 2+ years out (average 6 years). The paid 10 week programme offers work experience in a variety of departments, with real business issues to work on, together with an induction and a range of courses such as self-promotion, influence and industry trends. Goldman state that around 50% of participants have gone on to full-time roles.
There is strong evidence of success in the UK, with the majority of participants taken on into ongoing mid to senior level roles at the end of the programmes run to date.
Where can I find one? Any in the UK?
We are proud to have led the growth and development of returnships and other returner programmes since 2014, across sectors and across the UK. We have partnered with many leading organisations such as EY, Tideway, Man Group, Skanska, Macquarie Bank and O2 to develop and run successful programmes. Programmes have grown in number rapidly: from 3 in 2014, to 9 in 2015 and 23 in 2016 (source: Women Returners research).  To see the latest returnships on offer please see our constantly updated list here.
Of course you could always apply for a regular internship, particularly if you’re considering a new career (eg.Cancer Research UK state their unpaid 12 week internships are also aimed at mid-career changers). And we know a number of women who have set up their own informal returnships – we’ll talk more about creating your own returnship in a future post.

Posted by Julianne

Where are the role models of successful women returners?

“Is it really possible to get back into work after I’ve been out so long? I don’t know anyone who’s done it apart from a few friends who have retrained as teachers.”

Janice’s comment echoes the feeling of many women I talk to who are thinking about going back after a long career break. We look around and the world seems to divide between friends and colleagues who have never taken a long break and those who are on a career break and are not showing much inclination to return to the workplace. “Do you know of any finance directors (lawyers/marketing managers/…) who have successfully returned to work after many years out?” is a question we’re often asked. If you don’t know any examples of women similar to yourself who have made the transition back to fulfilling work, you can start to question if it is possible.

Why don’t I know more role models of successful returners?

Partly it’s a question of timing. Before the 1980’s there just weren’t that many professional women (eg. in 1971 4% of UK lawyers were female; in 2009 it was 43%*). The 1970’s ‘career women’ were less likely to give up their hard-won professions to care for their children or elderly parents. It was the highly-qualified women who began their working lives in the more equal 1980’s, or later, who felt confident enough in the 1990’s and 2000’s to take extended career breaks. So it was only in the mid 2000’s that the phenomenon of professional women returners started to be noticed in the US**. As we are still in the early days of finding routes back in to the workplace, it is not surprising that examples of successful returners can seem few and far between. This doesn’t mean you can’t find them, it just means you have to look a bit harder.

Why is it important for us to have role models? (the psychology bit)

According to psychologist Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory, having role models has a major effect on our belief in our ability to succeed in a certain situation (our ‘self-efficacy’). If we see people similar to ourselves succeeding in what we want to do, then we are more likely to believe we have the capabilities to do this too and to cope with inevitable setbacks. If we have a weak sense of self-efficacy we quickly lose confidence in our abilities, become more negative and are more likely to give up on our goals.

Where can I find more role models?

  1. Ask your friends/colleagues if they know anyone who has returned to work after a long break and who seems to be happy and fulfilled with their work-life.
  2. Check your LinkedIn contacts: some people list ‘career break’ as a role.
  3. I think that the many success stories on the US iRelaunch website are one of the best sources of ‘Look it can be done’ inspiration.
  4. As Katerina & I thought it would be great to have a bank of UK successes, we are starting to collect UK returner stories which we will include on our website.

Do you know any women professionals who have successfully returned to work … or are you a possible role model yourself? If so do get in touch. We’re not just looking for the high-flying returners, more a range of women who are back at work and happy with the work-family choices they have made.

* Alison Wolf, The XX Factor, 2013 ** Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Off-Ramps & On-Ramps, 2007

Posted by Julianne