Beckie Taylor was rising fast in the world of human resources when she was suddenly faced with a hurdle which would alter the course of her career.
An incredibly welcome hurdle, however. “I was on that traditional HR director trajectory – and then I fell pregnant with my son,” she tells BusinessCloud. “There was a whole realisation about the challenges that people face [around returning to work after becoming a parent]. I didn’t realise it was a thing.
“My two children are IVF, so it was a journey in itself to have them; then, when I was faced with the challenge of continuing my career and also being a mum, I realised how hard that is.
“I only had a short period of time off – the traditional 9-10 months – but I still really felt the impact. In the tech industry, everything happens in the evening – the networking events – and I couldn’t go, so I was losing some of those connections to help me grow my career.
“Tech moves so quickly so what I was talking about 12 months ago wasn’t necessarily relevant anymore, and they both impacted my confidence. So when I did return, I just didn’t feel myself.”
As the only woman on the leadership team, she was forced to reach out to a network “to see whether what I was feeling was normal”.
After meeting Arzu Kanval – who was in a similar situation to Taylor – the pair formed a community meetup group, Women in Technology, which is still growing today and runs the Reframe Women In Tech Conference.
After founding Tech Returners with James Heggs, the first pilot project ran in 2017. “We worked together previously – James was head of development and I was head of HR – and we formed our own consultancy,” Taylor explains to us at the Digital Transformation Expo (DTX) in Manchester.
“We started to allocate some of our own spare time to see if there was a market for providing free skilling opportunities for people to return to work.
“Our first cohort was 100% female – which was massively unheard of – and our second was 90% female. We placed women back into companies such as AutoTrader, AO.com, Think Money, and we knew we were onto something.”
Technology moves so quickly that a ‘Returner’ – whether a new parent, someone who has taken a break due to caring responsibilities, has suffered ill health or simply taken a sabbatical – may not be up-to-date on the latest frameworks or tech languages.
“We upskill them within those languages but also, equally important, in terms of confidence, career and mindset management, to then help them transition into organisations that we work with. We work with companies such as BAE Systems, Booking.com, Holiday Extras, The Guardian, to name a few.”
She adds: “Our Returners are advocates to inspire a more diverse tech workforce. 75% of our cohorts are women. So the more and more women that go through our programmes, the more women we’re going to have in technology.
“We wanted to remain true to our core value, which is accessibility, so no Returner will pay to do our upskilling programme – how it works is companies sponsor those places and basically pay it forward to us to train people, and they then have a huge talent pool at the end.”
Tech Returners has upskilled more than 230 people for a return to work.
“The perception of a Returner is that they are a junior, an apprentice – but they’re not!” exclaims Taylor. “The experience they’ve had – on average, 12 years – when they get a role, these people have skills and experience to allow them to fly.”
Becoming a parent in itself is a transferable skill, says Taylor. “Before nine o’clock in the morning, I’ve done negotiation between my two kids; mediation to get them dressed and put school shoes on; project management, thinking, ‘oh my god, I’ve forgotten to do this activity or this homework’; financial planning; and time management.
“I call these real skills rather than soft skills – they are of huge value and importance to an organisation.”
The long-term aim is to “go global”.
“In the pandemic we had to go fully remote and that meant we could go to the whole of the UK, which has been absolutely phenomenal,” she explains. “Our reach is a lot bigger now. We are also looking at different areas of programmes.
“We get inquiries from the US, from Australia, from Europe. I would love to be able to offer more people the life-changing opportunities we have done for people in the UK.”