When Burcu Erdur decided to take a two-year career break to look after her young child, she had not anticipated how hard it would be to find a job when she was ready to return.
After all, she had 16 years of work experience in a senior role.
“It was as if I had never worked. I felt like my career break wiped clean all of my previous career achievements.,” said Burcu, who had previously worked at four different companies in Turkey, holding a number of senior roles.
Burcu is one of many experienced women who have had difficulty finding work after taking a career break.
“Time passed and, when I decided it was time for me to go back, it wasn’t as easy as I expected. I was being questioned about a very personal decision I made. I had to struggle and convince people why I made that choice,” she said.
“During interviews, some of the questions I was asked were really alarming: ‘Are you really ready – will you be able to balance your work and your personal life?’ And my favourite was, ‘My wife did the same thing. She was planning to go back and then we had our second child’”
Recent economic research by KPMG for Vodafone found there are an estimated 96 million skilled women aged 30-54 on career breaks worldwide, and an estimated 55 million of these have experience at middle-manager level and above.
In 2017, Vodafone created the ReConnect programme in response. The programme is designed to attract talented women who have left the workplace for several years (in most cases to raise a family) and who would like to return to work on a full-time or flexible basis, but are struggling to make the professional connections needed or refresh the skills required.
Burcu, who gained a place on the ReConnect programme, said it has transformed her life. “I feel complete now. It is hard, and it is tiring, but it also makes me feel more dynamic, more valuable, and more complete,” she said of the programme, which operates across 26 countries - with a target of 1,000 ReConnect recruits within three years.
According to the KPMG research, programmes like this will not simply provide access to an untapped talent pool of highly experienced people, but could provide economic benefits.
The research found that, if all such women worldwide with experience at middle manager-level and above were able to secure manager-level employment (and on the assumption that their recruitment did not lead to the displacement of other employees), the value of the additional economic activity generated could be around £151 billion. And the financial boost for those women’s households could be as much as £419 billion a year.
“I believe there are many talented women around the world who are trying to reintegrate back to work,” added Burcu. “It is very hard being a working mum, but it is manageable with the right support. ReConnect gave me this.”