The recent interest in women returning to, or increasing their, labour market participation has largely ignored the skills and aspirations of women themselves. This article is based on a survey of mothers of young children in a fairly prosperous part of the South East of the UK. Research findings indicate that women lack confidence about their ability to return to economic activity, have a high demand for training, and expect to be frustrated in their career aspirations if training is not available. Childcare provision, flexible working hours and training would enable them to increase their participation in work. Constraints operate on the level of entry to the labour market and prevent women achieving their full potential. The discussion considers the forces which can facilitate or impede the full participation and development of women at work: occupational segregation, employer attitudes, the gender bias within organisations, Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs), trade unions and changing labour market demands. The findings indicate important policy directions for employers, trade unions and TECs to utilise this human resource more effectively.