Survey suggests women in science and engineering careers find it hard to return to work following a break

A survey of over 5000 women suggests the majority face significant barriers when returning to work in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) jobs following a career break. Topping the list were financial worries and a lack of flexibility. Just over half of the survey’s respondents (52%) said that the cost of childcare was a barrier to returning to work, and the second largest problem was a lack of flexible working options, affecting 27% of respondents.

The survey was run jointly by the Women’s Engineering Society, Women in Manufacturing, the trade union Prospect and the government body Talent Retention Solution, to investigate the ‘leaky pipeline’ of women in STEM. It was promoted among members of these groups, as well as other networks such as university staff and the online community Mumsnet.

The results were presented at the House of Commons earlier this week. In a statement, Prospect director of communications Sue Ferns said the survey highlighted the need for better support for women returning to work in STEM careers. She gave flexible working opportunities, top-up training and mentoring as examples of schemes that could help. ‘We know from existing good practices that removing these barriers is eminently achievable,’ she said. ‘It is just that the pace of change is nowhere near quick enough.’