Vodafone – one of the world’s leading mobile communications providers – recently announced two initiatives designed to increase opportunities for women in the workplace and enhance their life prospects in emerging markets. Vodafone’s “ReConnect” programme is designed to attract talented women who have taken a career break for several years to raise a family or for other reasons and planning to return to work on a full-time or flexible basis. Focused on increasing the proportion of women in management and leadership roles, this programme aims to recruit up to 500 women on career breaks into management roles and an additional 500 into a range of frontline roles, over the next three years. Set to operate across 26 countries, ReConnect appears to complement other Vodafone global initiatives committed to encouraging and supporting women in the workplace, including the Group’s global maternity policy initiated in March 2015.
Economic research commissioned by Vodafone from KPMG indicates there are an estimated 96 million skilled women aged 30-54 on career breaks worldwide, of whom an estimated 55 million have experience at mid-manager level and above. Furthermore, the KPMG research also illustrates the potential economic benefits associated with assimilating into the workplace the women on a career break, especially those with managerial skills. Separately, a survey for Vodafone by GfK revealed the need for additional support for women wishing to return to the workplace following a career break and for working women with family and care responsibilities.
In answer to the findings of these surveys, Vodafone has developed the ReConnect programme which includes recruitment outreach activities to make contact with women on career breaks, training and induction programmes to refresh and enhance professional skills and help women prepare for re-entry into the workplace, training for hiring managers and employment terms designed to reflect the uniqueness of working women’s lives, such as flexible working options and a phased return to work (for example, a four-day week for the first six months). Talking about the programme, Vodafone Group Chief Executive Vittorio Colao said: “We are committed to ensuring that our employees are drawn from diverse communities and societies. Our ambition to be one of the best employers for women in the world is central to that commitment. […] Innovations such as our global maternity policy and now our new ReConnect programme can make a real difference to women who work for us today and who will work for us in the future.”
Vodafone has also announced a range of new commercial initiatives designed to help women in low-income and remote communities in emerging markets – particularly in India and Africa – benefit from access to mobile phone services in order to improve their lives and livelihoods. Access to mobile appears to have already had a transformative effect for hundreds of millions of people in emerging markets in relation to the key role mobile connectivity seems to plays in many areas of daily life, from education, healthcare and business creation to greater financial inclusion. Through this initiative, Vodafone intends to bring mobile to an additional 50 million women by 2025 and, this way, build bridges for women to achieve productive socio-economic outcomes in relatively remote communities.
For women who may have taken a career break to raise children, run a business or for some time off and who wish to return to the corporate life, programmes such as Vodafone’s ReConnect may represent a step ahead of the game by offering them support to reconnect with the professional world and with their career dreams, a targeted development to accelerate their reintegration while also giving them the flexibility to balance work and home life. Offering innovative solutions to women returners, such as building a flexible, motivating and inclusive work environment, which recognises, develops and rewards their talent, may have mutual benefits for both returners and companies. This scheme may offer employers access to a diverse pool of talent, quality and seniority and, in terms of scalability, it may have the potential to extend in order to incorporate, for example, stay-at-home dads wishing to return to work full-time or on a flexible basis while continuing to care for their families.
How may businesses support skilled women return to work after a career break?