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Employers Discuss How to make Returner Hiring a more Sustainable part of Annual Recruitment

“It is really important to move returner hiring from a D&I initiative to become a strategic recruitment initiative across the whole business. At the end of the day returner hiring is all about fantastic talent.” 


Our Employer Returner Network event in May 2021 brought together 65 employers online to share insights into how to make returner hiring a more sustainable part of annual recruitment.

A panel of three employers with experience of different returner hiring initiatives shared their insights and there was the opportunity for informal employer discussions in break-out groups.

We are keen to promote information-sharing between organisations to ensure that returner programmes are prominent on the organisational agenda, as we emerge from the pandemic. Various studies have shown that the coronavirus crisis is disproportionately affecting female employment, so now is the time to prepare returner initiatives to harness this influx of returner talent in late 2021 and through to 2022/23.

Contributing Employers 

We were delighted to be joined by the following Employers who generously shared learnings from their extensive experience:

  • Jo Ogilvie, Lead Recruiter, Bank of England. Jo is the Programme Manager on the Bank of England Career Returners Programme which has been running since 2018. The core programme is an annual cohort-based 6-month returnship, which has grown year-on-year to become one of the largest UK programmes. More recently, alongside the returnship, the Bank has added a number of ad-hoc supported hiring opportunities, which have brought returners directly into permanent roles.  
  • Sarah McKee, Talent Manager, Allianz Insurance. Sarah is Programme Manager for Career Returners at Allianz. Launched in 2018, the programme initially ran as a 6-month cohort-based returnship. In mid 2019, Allianz switched to a rolling supported hiring programme, with periodic Insight Events co-hosted with Women Returners to build engagement. All of Allianz’s roles are now open to returner applications, with support provided to successful returner hires and their managers.
  • Anna Strillacci, Diversity Project, Returners Workstream. Anna is one of the business leaders on the Diversity Project, an employer-led body aiming to increase diversity in the savings and investment sector. In 2020 the Diversity Project partnered with Women Returners to launch a Cross-Company Returner Programme in London. The 6-month returnship programme ran virtually with 5 leading firms in 2020 and has doubled in participant size for 2021.

 Employer Top-Line Insights

  • There are lots of ways to do returner hiring, and everyone does it slightly differently; it’s about trying out approaches, learning and evolving your approach to build momentum
    • “The success of the programme has meant more areas wanting to get involved, which is why we have moved on to using the supported hire piece, alongside our cohort returner programme.”
    • “Our aim with a Rolling Supported Hiring Programme is to get to a point where returners are another great resource for all our vacancies.”
    • The cross-company programme makes it an accessible option for smaller recruitment needs.”
  • Use your first initiative to showcase the returners and let the talent ‘speak for itself’
    • “Everyone was seeing how wonderfully the returners were fitting in.”
    • “There is little convincing to do with the hiring managers, there is such a success story, with some returners already being promoted since they were made permanent.”
    • ”2 fantastic returners blazed the trail for us. They made an impact really quickly and we had managers knocking on the door saying they wanted more of this.”
    • “We’ve met so many amazing candidates, returner hiring speaks for itself once the business meets them.”
  • Returners contribute to diversity in many dimensions
    • “Diversity statistics have been so positive, 86% of our 77 career returners are female and 49% are from differing ethnic backgrounds.”
    • “The cross-company returner programme is a fantastic opportunity to increase diversity at a sector level.”

Employer Advice

Supported Hiring to Build Single-Company Sustainability

Rolling vs Ad-Hoc Supported Hiring 

  • Different returner hiring approaches can work alongside one another and be flexed to meet the evolving demands of hiring managers
    • “When we have ad-hoc vacancies or if we are running a mini-campaign, we brief hiring managers about the returner option, advertise with Women Returners and bring in returners with support – buddies, mentors, coaching – as we do on the returnship programme.”
    • “All of our vacancies are open to returners”

Internal and External Engagement

  • For rolling recruitment into business-as-usual roles it is key to success to keep returner hiring high on the internal agenda with recruiters and business managers
  • Insight Events help to drive engagement and build connections between hiring managers and returners:
    • Events are “where the ‘magic’ happens, with connections starting that otherwise might not occur if managers were just looking at CVs.”
  • Virtual events can be just as effective
    • “Moving to virtual events because of the pandemic has removed all the logistical barriers, and opens up the pool of candidates across the country we can speak to.”  


  • Rolling recruitment can provide ongoing opportunities to a returner talent pool throughout the year, and the option to keep in touch with great candidates for future roles:
    • “We keep a network going of candidates that we’ve met, so if they are not successful or if they haven’t applied yet, we keep talking to them.”
  • Put in place the structure and resources to ‘track’ returners through the recruitment process: to measure success, identify any barriers to returner recruitment, and ensure returner support is in place from day one for successful hires

Transition Support

  • The support component is very important to ensure a successful transition, offering permanent returner hires coaching support, a mentor/buddy and connecting them with your existing returner community
    • “The coaching support [from Women Returners] is the bit we get the best feedback about, from the managers as well as the returners … the managers see them growing through the coaching, in terms of confidence.”
  • Line managers also benefit from coaching support, to help them support their returner through the return-to-work transition and to optimise their long term success
    • “A massive learning curve has been to offer Line Manager coaching for Supported Hiring. Even though we have experienced managers there is certain support returners need, so it is important for hiring managers to be briefed.”

Cross Company Returnship To Build Sector Sustainability

  • A cross-company programme is a great example of when organisations work together to increase awareness of diverse talent and drive wider change at a sector level
  • The cross-company structure removes some of the barriers to running a returner programme:
    • “It allows organisations to hire smaller numbers of returners whilst benefiting from being part of a larger programme.”
    • “It’s a flexible approach that can be tailored to meet your recruitment needs year on year, and provides a low risk insight into the benefits of returners.”
  • Running the programme together increases employer collaboration, creates economies of scale and develops a returner peer support network
    • Employers learn from one another and work together with Women Returners to promote the programme, creating wider awareness.”
    • “The fixed framework means less decision making; fixed timings and advertising treatments; coordinated launch events, hiring manager briefings and overall programme management.”
    • “The cross-company cohort coaching provides valuable peer support within the industry.”

Further Information

Women Returners is launching a FinTech Returners Programme in partnership with Innovate Finance.  You can find out more information here.

If you’d like to learn more about our consulting, advertising and coaching support to help you launch returner hiring, please contact Women Returners on