For many companies, it is a key objective to promote gender diversity among the leadership ranks. Since many women take time out from their careers to be mothers, numerous employers have discovered returnship programs as a compelling way to bring women back to the workforce mid-career.
Companies are realizing that for women who’ve been out of the workforce, the path back is not always simple. They may feel judged for taking time off, they may be worried about age discrimination, they may feel “out of practice,” or they may feel utterly behind on technology and social media trends.
In an effort to help professionals make this transition more manageable, many employers — including PepsiCo, Fitch Ratings and PayPal — have begun implementing “returnship” or “return-to-work” programs. To get a better sense of how this process works, Fairygodboss spoke to Path Forward, an organization that works with works with companies on designing and implementing returnships. They gave us the scoop on how companies can benefit from taking the time to help professionals re-enter the workforce and what it takes to set up an effective program.
Here are 3 things employers should know about why and how they should implement return-to-work programs:
1. They help companies find, attract and retain talent. Tami Forman, executive director of Path Forward, tells us that employers often have a hard time finding the diverse talent they need to stay competitive. “And yet,” she says, “there are millions of smart, capable women who’ve taken time away from their career to focus on their families and they face a challenge restarting their careers when they are ready.”
A return-to-work internship program offers a structured, low-risk program so that managers can access a pool of talent they’d otherwise be missing out on, Forman explains. “That’s the big-picture benefit.”
Fitch Ratings’ Jessalynn Moro, managing director and analytical sponsor of Fitch’s program, couldn’t agree more. “There is an underutilized talent pool of women who, after stepping back from their career for family commitments or other personal reasons, want to get back to work and are looking for a supportive environment that sets them up for success,” she says, adding that Fitch’s program encourages talented job seekers who might otherwise feel discouraged in a job search.
Forman adds that when companies take on these kinds of initiatives, it can help boost employee morale. “Employees appreciate it, managers grow in new ways when they work on a Path Forward program, and teams get energized when driven, motivated returning workers join their ranks.”
LaFawn Bailey, global head of culture and diversity at PayPal, can attest to this: “Across PayPal, employees are enthusiastic about the Path Forward program and proud to be part of an organization that is taking a leadership role in welcoming moms into the tech workspace,” she says. “We are excited to see [Path Forward] bring programs like this to more companies and expand the opportunity for women who want to resume and advance their careers after taking a pause.”
2. The main investment for companies to participate is the cost of the returnees’ hourly salaries — yet Forman says that “the investment pays off for our partners because they generally retain a high percentage of the returnees they bring on. To date, 80% of graduates were retained by the company where they interned and 90% were employed within a few months of the program’s end.” Not bad, eh?
Of course, there’s also an investment in time for HR and hiring managers, but there are ways to make this investment more efficient. Forman’s team, for instance, will work closely with employers to offer marketing and recruitment support, as well as training on how to administer the program and enable success.
3. The returns outweigh the risks — especially if employers take the time to carefully design a program. Employers should be cognizant about what, specifically, they’re offering.
PepsiCo, for instance, has provided a “Ready to Return” program that’s open to professionals who have taken a career break for more than two years. To help ease the transition back to the workplace, Pepsi offers participants mentoring and coaching support, training to refresh skills, and opportunities to network and learn about working at PepsiCo, specifically in Research & Development, Marketing, or Supply Chain project, depending on their expertise, skills, and career aspirations.
Forman notes that while many companies are very risk-averse, the risks on a return to work program are not big — and the returns can be tremendous.
“That said, it helps to be thoughtful, particularly about the managers you choose to tap for this program,” she explains. “Managers who are good mentors, who are good at spotting potential, who are open to flexible work arrangements. In many companies it’s men — particularly, interestingly, fathers of daughters — who can be the strongest advocates for this kind of program.”
Forman says Path Forward has also found that the cohort model works well for this program (for instance, having a “class” of several returnees instead of just hiring one person). “How big your class needs to be can vary by the size of the company, but the ‘just one’ programs aren’t as high impact for the company and are less supportive for the returnee. You also benefit from some economy of scale — the work involved to bring in a few people is not substantially more than to bring in one, but the return on that effort and investment is much higher,” she explains.
If you’ve been toying with the idea, the case should now be clear. By offering a returnship program, you’ll help support top talent as they reenter the workforce — and in turn will improve your business.
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