the untapped talent of women previously in business

It is a sad fact that in today’s society there are many women who have been fortunate enough to have long, successful and happy careers, but now that they are looking for a more conducive pace of working life they seem unable to find it or have it.

Perhaps this is because only six per cent of quality jobs come with an opportunity to work flexibly, despite all employees being legally entitled to request this time if it will suit their needs. Perhaps not? Here is an observation that is becoming more and more apparent. Many companies and organisations are missing out on a fantastic pool of talent and experience: Women, who have had successful, high-profile, very well-paid careers, often paying the price by working long, unsociable hours, travelling all over the world, attending endless meetings, conferences and training programmes and often bringing up children at the same time. Women who have now decided to take stock of their lives and have a more manageable work-life balance (after all they deserve it!)

These women are done with the 100-hour working weeks and the associated issues. They are now ready to enjoy having more time for themselves and their families but are not ready to give up completely. These women still want to be stretched and challenged in their jobs and clearly a junior part-time role will leave them unsatisfied. In the UK alone, there are 1.5 million people in a job that they are over-qualified for. But why is this problem happening? Why do so many of these fabulous females struggle so much?

Culturally in the UK, only people who work full-time are seen as being seriously ambitious; you can’t possibly be working part-time and want to do well. Some of the most common themes for employers not offering a role are: Fear – ‘This person is better than me, if I offer her a role, I will probably lose my job to her’; Financial assumptions – ‘Why would this person want to take a huge pay cut?’, or, ‘We, can’t afford to pay her, she will want a large salary’; Ignorance – ‘What an earth does someone who earns £80k a year do? I can’t ask that otherwise I will look silly. I can’t lose face.’; Jealousy – ‘How the mighty have fallen, going from travelling all over the world and being hugely responsible to this kind of role?!’; Power – ‘I would never be able to manage a person with this level of experience and knowledge.’; Ridicule – ‘Previously a career woman and now a grandmother wanting to spend time with the children’; Disbelief – ‘There is no way that this person could do this kind of role in just part-time hours.’; Age – even though age discrimination is not allowed by law, let’s face it, if a company feels that a person is too old for the role, they can always come up with another reason not to employ them!

A recent study carried out by experts in Japan on more than 6,500 people over the age of 40 found that a 3-day week keeps people sharp and focused on their role, and ultimately more productive too. This research has also shown that for those people in middle and older age bracket, working on a part-time basis can be highly effective in helping to maintain their cognitive ability. The ideal weekly hours worked was suggested to be 25 hours as cognitive performance improved. Once the week went over that number of hours, overall performance decreased as ‘fatigue and stress’ started to take effect.

What is most shocking is the thoughtlessness of so many of these companies, and it really happens, all the time. It is not industry, sector or role specific. These women have amazing career and life skills plus bags of experience to deliver a fantastic service to these businesses. They would bring diversity to the staff, provide great advice for free and will not easily take offence.

What’s more, they genuinely do want to offer their knowledge for the benefit of others. Companies will happily pay through the nose to train their employers, expose them to expensive coaching or bring in a consultant when the business requires and yet, when it comes to employing an experienced woman offering them everything they want, they do not seem keen.

We are under no illusion that men have also had similar experiences for similar reasons but the majority of men either do not wish to make a career change or where the gender gap in employment comes in, don’t have the same issues.

The great news is that the smart recruitment businesses and agencies out there, will meet with these wonderful women and put them on their books as they know their value and what they are worth to the right company. Lets celebrate these women!


Interested in Diversity in the workplace? We recommend the Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2019.





Carol Johnson, Director of Johnson Underwood began her career within the public sector, then industry and commerce before entering the field of recruitment. After gaining valuable experience in the industry, Carol took the initiative to set up Johnson Underwood and has successfully managed the recruitment agency and business for nearly 30 years. As an independent, successful, career woman, with her own business Carol is a huge champion of women everywhere, especially women’s rights in the workplace, supporting women in their career goals and aspirations, no matter how big or small. The economic changes that have happened over the last three decades have had a drastic impact on the world of recruitment, as well as how women are viewed and valued in companies all over the UK.