Best diversity and inclusion initiative

O2 career returners


For O2, which serves 25 million customers across the UK, having a diverse and balanced workforce that can understand a variety of needs is a top priority. Acting on its ambition to be a leading inclusive employer by 2020, O2 launched the first Career Returners programme in 2016. 

In the three years since it launched, the scheme has unlocked the talent and experience of scores of engaged workers following career breaks, and increased the representation of women in STEM careers at O2. 

The four-month programme is tailored to suit people returning to the workplace after a break, and to support them in maintaining a work life balance. This meant a simplified application process including self-scheduled telephone screenings, a workshop on confidence building included in the assessment day, and managers trained in advance to improve the interviewing experience. 

Once candidates have been recruited onto the programme, they are placed with a supportive line manager, assigned a mentor, and paired with a ‘buddy’. As the programme continues, buddies are now previous graduates of the programme, 80% of whom achieved permanent roles with O2 at the end of their placement. Last year’s was the most successful run of the scheme to date, with all returners going on to secure a permanent job. 

Key to the programme’s success is the flexible working options offered to candidates, which is extended as they transition into permanent roles. 

Career Returners has established a new talent pool from which O2 has started to recruit for vacancies outside of the programme, too. In just three years, a recruit from the programme’s first cohort has hired another returner to her team from this talent pool. 

The programme has sparked interest on a wider scale. Channel 4 News called O2 “a rarity among British companies” in light of the programme, and a think tank hosted by O2 and Women Returners to share best practice in running programmes like the Career Returners scheme attracted the likes of JP Morgan, Bloomberg, BBC, ITV, Sky and the Bank of England. 

In just three years the programme has not only proven the value of attracting women returning from a career break, but has also established O2 as a thought leader. 

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