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Valerie Hughes-D'Aeth, HR director at public services firm Amey, has called on employers to tap into an overlooked pool of female talent: women who have left work after having children.

Speaking to HR magazine, Hughes-D'Aeth said there could be a number of reasons women drop out of the workforce, including a lack of flexibility from their employerwhen they start a family.

Hughes-D'Aeth, who was this week named the 13th Most Influential HR Practitioner at the 2013 HR Most Influential ranking, said these women are often "very skilled and "experienced" and "employers should invest them".

"We are all living longer and we are all going to have to work for longer, so I think there's a fantastic opportunity to tap into this pool of female talent," she told HR.

"Employers should invest in this group in the same way we are seeing with apprenticeships."

Can women 'have it all'?

Last week a report, from telecommunications firm O2, found half of women think they can't 'have it all'. Hughes-D'Aeth said she agrees and said it's hard for women to combine a successful career and have a family.

Drawing on her own experiences she said: "When I first had children I decided to take a step-back and go down to three days a week, because I'd rather have that time with my children. This did mean changing employers, as the company at the time wouldn't allow me to do this."

She said while many employers are starting to change working practices and make their companies more attractive to female workers, some need a "complete culture change".

"Women who have had time out become less confident and less pushy about promoting themselves outside of the office," she said.

"There are some women who have fantastic potential but unfortunately don't want to go further, so it's about changing the culture to welcome them back into the workforce."

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