Recently I have found myself stating to a lot of people that Cambridge has the most talented and highly-qualified pool of unemployed that I have ever seen. The listener usually laughs and agrees when I explain that these are the mothers of young children who used to have high-flying careers, and who in many cases never return to full-time work.
They are the people like me, women who have been brought up and trained to do demanding jobs, and who have built successful careers pre-children, who loved working and saw their job as a key part of who they were. Most of us never expected to stop, but having stopped many expect never to go back. The reasons and circumstances are all different and varied. A few examples. Women who do return to work part-time only to leave because they "never see their children". Women who choose to return to work at a more junior level so that they can be genuinely part-time and not feel the responsibility to fight fires at other times. Women who return to work successfully part-time at their existing employer, only to discover how limited their options are when they look for a new part-time role elsewhere. And the counter example, which is fortunately now very well-accepted - women who return to work full-time leaving their partner to be the non-worker and primary parent.
This is not intended to be a tale of doom and gloom. Many parents find entirely new careers as a result, often in creative customer-facing businesses, and often self-employed. Others become school governors, NCT counsellors, and much-needed volunteers. In Cambridge two of our largest employers, Cambridge University and Addenbrookes, both have large numbers of part-time workers, and are able to manage this very successfully. And yet, even in this city, there are many many highly-skilled and experienced women who would love to work, if only the work could fit comfortably with their family responsibilities. The few organisations I know that are willing to work in this way are rewarded with loyal and talented staff, and frequently find it beneficial that those staff are working unusual hours such as evenings and weekends.
So this is a question and a plea. Why are commercial businesses, especially high-tech and high-growth businesses, not looking to make use of this incredibly-valuable resource? Why can we not develop management methods which allow staff to work more flexibly, both in terms of physical locations and times of working? With the internet and mobile phones, the technology is there. What seems to be lacking is the will and the motivation.