NEW YORK - Ms Andrea Chermayeff planned to go back to work when the youngest of her four children enrolled in school last autumn. With a Harvard master's and experience at a private equity firm, she had the credentials to return to Wall Street. The only problem was explaining a 15-year gap on her resume.

To get started, Ms Chermayeff attended a programme at Harvard Business School for professional women looking to return to work after taking a career break.

She picked up tips on how to prepare a resume and handle interview questions about her absence.

But the big break in her job search came while sitting next to another mother at her son's baseball game.

"I told her that I was thinking about going back to work," Ms Chermayeff, 43, said. "We had never spoken about business before. She was a high-ranking executive at JPMorgan Chase and she told me about a new programme at JPMorgan that she thought would suit my needs."

Ms Chermayeff applied and was selected from among 200 applicants for the first class of 10 women in JPMorgan's workforce re-entry programme last September. After completing a 10-week internship, she landed a full-time job as a business manager for JPMorgan's US Private Bank.

Many women trying to return to work after a break have found it difficult to figure out how to navigate their way back in.

JPMorgan's effort is one of several small but growing programmes in the United States started within the last year to help highly educated and accomplished women, such as Ms Chermayeff, return to jobs they left in finance and at law firms to care for their children or ageing parents.

At least four big law firms in the country, including Baker Botts and Sidley Austin, are offering one-year paid internships starting this summer, with an opportunity for full-time work.

On Wall Street, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse have also started similar efforts in recent months; Goldman Sachs in 2008 was the first bank to offer such a programme. Now, more than 120 graduates work in full-time positions at the bank.

The reason is simple, said Ms Peg Sullivan, global head of talent management at Morgan Stanley: "We are always looking for great talent, top talent wherever we can find it."

At Morgan Stanley, 15 women selected from more than 500 applicants started last month in the firm's first 12-week re-entry programme in New York.

Before receiving their work assignments, they attended an intensive orientation programme.

"We were pretty flexible about how long people have been out," Ms Sullivan said.

While companies are offering flexible schedules, backup child care and other accommodations, the demanding work schedules for people in the financial services industry and big law firms are daunting for even the most committed employees.

A study of high-achieving women found that 31 per cent voluntarily left the workforce between 2004 and 2009, primarily for child-care reasons, according to an analysis by the Centre for Work-Life Policy, now known as the Centre for Talent Innovation.

After career breaks averaging 21/2 years, 89 per cent said they wanted to return, the study found.

But only 40 per cent managed to find what they regarded as a good full-time job in the sector of their choice.

"There is no easy way to access the opportunities as a returnee," said Ms Sylvia Ann Hewlett, an author of the study and chairman and chief executive of the Centre for Talent Innovation.

"These are very bright women and the business of reskilling is quick and seamless."

Ms Betsy Myers, founding director of the Centre for Women and Business at Bentley University, said women filled about half of the middle-management ranks in many companies today.

"Then there is a drop-off," she said. "They go from 50 per cent to 10 per cent to 15 per cent of women in their C-suite jobs."

C-suite jobs refer to a corporation's most senior executives, whose titles tend to start with the letter "c".

She said companies were recognising they had to do more to retain women managers to get balanced leadership at the top.

One of the most important ways, she said, is to show how much company leaders value employees considering a hiatus.

For experienced lawyers with a career gap, recruitment expert Caren Ulrich Stacy has created the OnRamp Fellowship. Four big law firms have joined the programme and more than a dozen others have expressed interest recently, she said.

Ms Stacy said she found it difficult to find firms willing to hire experienced lawyers with career gaps.

For Ms Chermayeff, now at JPMorgan, the transition has gone smoothly at work and at home. "It is a new normal that we are trying to get to," she said about her family.

"They are at home. They are at school. I am at work. I have not disappeared. I took a job."