Recruit, Retain and Return – ‘3Rs’ for International Women’s Day

3 minutes read
By Abigail Britnell, European Account Manager, Top Employers Institute

International Women’s day, celebrated on 8th March, shows us how far organisations have come in advancing the cause of women in the workplace, but it also demonstrates how far there is to go. This year’s campaign theme is #EmbraceEquity – and for good reason. Equality at work is no longer enough: different women are starting from different places, so true inclusion and belonging requires equitable action.

With this in mind, it’s encouraging that the UK’s Top Employers have made great strides over the last year. Over four in five (81%) of certified UK Top Employers now have dedicated programmes to empower women, an increase of 12% on the previous year.

The key for these businesses has not only been to advance opportunities for women facing their many different barriers to progress, but to do so in a way that spans the employee life cycle. This means from the moment they are recruited, to the actions taken to retain them and in ways to enable their return at key moments in their careers.



Empowerment of women begins with the hiring process. Numerous studies identify unconscious bias at specific touch points throughout the recruitment and candidate journey, starting with technology. This bias doesn’t only affect women, but when it comes to gender it has been recognised and acted upon. Many changes are being implemented to ensure female top talent isn’t being missed in the recruitment process. For example, certified UK Top Employer East Midlands Railway, amongst others, is using “anonymous” recruitment techniques within the recruitment process to remove any possibility of unconscious bias among hiring managers.



Women can thrive through sponsorship networks. UK Top Employer Group M recently introduced its first Sponsorship programme which brought senior leaders together with underrepresented high performing talent from minority ethnic backgrounds. These leaders acted as sponsors, helping the participants to move through to promotion and Senior Leadership. The first cohort completed their 18-month programme in 2022. Women made up half those being sponsored, with 57% winning promotion. A further 10% moved into a new role or gained greater responsibility whilst also building contacts, skills, confidence, and a career path towards promotion.

Later this year, the business will launch its second Sponsorship programme, focussing on a wider group of underrepresented talent, specifically targeting areas of improvement identified from its gender pay gap analysis. Complementing this will be a Women in Leadership programme and a Mentorship programme, creating equitable ways forward for women at every level of their career.



The challenges for helping women return to work are particularly acute in businesses relying on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills. UK Top Employer Virtusa has implemented its Disha programme; a successful initiative that welcomes women back to business after career breaks.

Disha is a training capsule that includes a blend of technical and soft skills, in the form of workshops led by leadership and industry leaders. After a week-long training period, participants are invited to present their solutions to a hypothetical business problem, to assess their knowledge and cultural fit. Participants of the workshop are then given the opportunity to interview for open roles at Virtusa. In January 2023, Virtusa completed its fourth edition of this programme, held for the first time at Virtusa UK, and the organisation is looking to extend the initiative to other regions.


These 3Rs from these and many other UK Top Employers give business organisations a strategic way forward in the drive to #EmbraceEquity for women at every stage of the employee lifecycle.

If you would like to find out more about how your organisation can become a Top Employer click here


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Recruit, Retain and Return – ‘3Rs’ for International Women’s Day

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