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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Moloney

Career development and women returners in Australia

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

The increase of women in the paid workforce in Australia has been a strong trend over the last few decades. Women currently comprise 47.2% of all employed persons in Australia [1]. The participation of women in the workforce has been identified as economically and socially imperative to Australia, and essential to support economic growth [2].

There is no doubt that women returning to the workforce after taking a career break face certain challenges and obstacles that other segments of the workforce don't have to navigate. Whilst there has been increased attention and initiatives developed by the government and some employers to address this over recent years, there is still a long way to go.

There are various reasons female employees may take a career break, although women taking career breaks to have children is the most common reason. Hays Diversity & Inclusion Report 2018/19 reported that of the respondents surveyed, 64% of women had taken a career break, and having children was the primary reason at 41% [3]. The report also identified that both women and men encountered challenges re-entering the workforce. To provide effective support to women returners in Australia, it's important to fully understand their career development needs.

Edith Cowan University undertook a research project to specifically explore key issues of women seeking to re-enter the workforce after a career break, and identify their main career development needs [4]. The Australian Blueprint for Career Development [5] was used to provide a framework to match specific career competencies to the needs, issues and concerns of women returners, to use as a guiding tool for career development activities. The research recognised that the career competencies identified as most significant to women returners included:

  • Build and maintain a positive self-image

  • Participate in lifelong learning supportive of career goals

  • Locate and effectively use career information

  • Secure/create and maintain work

  • Maintain balanced life and work roles

It's refreshing to see research like this undertaken, as well as employer initiatives such as return to work programs and supporting flexible work practices, making it easier for some women to transition back to work. The talent pool from women returners is a tremendous asset for organisations, so it is only in their best interest to be progressive in understanding and accommodating women returner needs.

Career services and workshops provided by At the Helm Career Services place a strong focus on supporting women returners and aligning this support with key career development competencies. Please contact us, we would love to help you navigate your career journey.


  1. Gender Workplace Statistics at a Glance 2021 Fact Sheet. Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

  2. Women's Workforce Participation. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Accessed 9 February, 2021.

  3. Hays Diversity & Inclusion Report 2018/19.

  4. Addressing the Career Development Needs of Women Returners in Australia - Blueprint Case Study. Department of Education, Skills and Employment. Accessed 9 February 2021.

  5. Australian Blueprint for Career Development. Department of Education, Skills and Employment. Accessed 9 February 2021.


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