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Research and theoretical papers
Published: 12-05-2010

Taking a Lifecycle Approach: Redefining Women Returners to Science, Engineering and Technology

The Open University

Clem Herman

I have worked for over 25 years as an educator, practitioner and researcher to support women in ICT and other science, engineering and technology sectors. I am currently running an award winning online course for women returning to SET, developed in partnership with the UK Resource Centre for Women in SET. Before joining the Open University, I was the Director of the Women’s Electronic Village Hall (WEVH) in Manchester pioneering the use of ICTs to empower women and as a tool to combat social exclusion. My recent research has included work about the impact of career breaks for women in ICT and other SET industries across Europe. I am passionate about the need to engage the research community with policy makers and practitioners in order to create sustainable change — hence this journal!
Visiting Professor at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute of the Open University of Catalunya

Juliet Webster

IN3 Internet Interdisciplinary Institute&&&&&&&&&&&Parc Mediterrani de la TecnologiaAv.&Canal&Olímpic s/n, Edifici B308860 CASTELLDEFELS (Barcelona)&SPAIN
women returners science engineering technology policy


Measures to support women to return to the&science, engineering and technology (SET) labour market have been implemented over the past three decades in response to the overall shortage of SET skills, as well as with the aim of (re)empowering individual women through their improved financial independence and labour market participation.& Yet their needs remain poorly analysed and the impact of labour market reintegration measures appears to have been patchy.


This paper examines the experiences of women re-entering the SET labour market after a break from employment in the light of assumptions made about them in UK public policy, particularly related to labour market and employment. Drawing on evidence from surveys and interview data from two groups of women returners to SET we conclude that their needs are more diverse and complex than is recognised in much policy thinking and practice, and that these differ at specific points within the lifecycle. These differences include their relationships to the labour market, patterns of employment, reasons for leaving SET and obstacles to re-entry.& Our conclusion is that, to respond effectively to the needs and requirements of women returners to SET, UK public policy therefore needs to be considerably more nuanced than it currently appears to be.& In particular, policy needs to reflect the diversity and changing situations of women returners over the lifecycle, and needs to provide for a range of interventions that tackle different obstacles to women’s return throughout their working lives.& It may also be that the very term ‘returners’ - which tends to evoke a single episode of exit from and re-entry to the labour market — will need to be revisited in future scholarly and policy frameworks on women in SET.

How to Cite

Herman, C., & Webster, J. (2010). Taking a Lifecycle Approach: Redefining Women Returners to Science, Engineering and Technology. International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 2(2). Retrieved from