Returnships: A Key Diversity Initiative

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I am sure you have heard the story a thousand times before.  A woman in the middle of her career has children and takes maternity leave.  Weeks off turn into months or years as the new mom focuses on raising her child either due to necessity (the cost of child care can be egregious) or choice.

As was the case for someone in my family–the years off of work turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The gap in work experience made it harder to break back into the job world and therefore made it easier and more appealing to continue on as a stay-at-home mom (for better or for worse).

Enter the returnship. Goldman Sachs pioneered the idea of returnships in 2008 and maintains the program under their diversity and inclusion page.  It is setup to help mid-career professionals return to the office after an extended leave.  While a big focus of the program is directed towards helping mothers return to the workforce after pregnancy, the program is also open to men and women who took leave for a variety of reasons from medical needs to family issues.

Apparently, 90% of individuals who take an extended leave intend to return to work but only 50% do—a huge discrepancy that the returnship programs look to address.

There are a number of reasons why these programs are uniquely beneficial to both employers and employees:

Reducing Search Friction: At the War For Talent Conference in San Francisco John Sumser talked to me about one of the most interesting facets of our current recession–we were seeing both an increasing number of job openings as well as a sustained level of high unemployment.  In an era in which technology creates rapid changes to the workforce and skills needed within the workforce, people who take time off have never been more at risk at getting left behind.

In these cases, returnships are a fantastic solution to help people transition into new and changing roles.

Skills to Pay the Bills: Another clear advantage for returnship programs is the ability for companies to woo middle age employees who can bring unique backgrounds and ideas to a team.  While many employers like to hire young people who can be trained from the ground up, there are numerous advantages to working with older employees.  Most critical is the new perspectives and skills that a career changer can bring from other industries where they previously worked.

Leaning In: From Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In to Marissa Mayer’s quick return to the work place after having her first child as Yahoo’s CEO, the conversation about equality and women in the workplace is taking center stage.  Marissa Mayer explained that her quick return to the workplace was a demonstration that women do not need to sacrifice upward mobility for child rearing.  Meanwhile, a large number of women who agree with that general sentiment still want to take more time off than 2-weeks.  Returnships are a powerful diversity and inclusion program for any company to help accommodate women and men who have different viewpoints on balancing family and work ambitions.

Other companies with returnships include non-profit Universal GivingSara Lee, and more.

Returnships in Your Organization?

Does your company participate in a returnships? 

 

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