HR Corner

Returnships – Helping Women Return To Work

In 2008, Goldman Sachs coined a term – ‘returnships’, a program to help female professionals restart their careers after an extended absence from work. So what are returnships? Returnships are just like internships. Organizations hire women who want to re-launch their careers after a long break, and provide them training and mentoring. This helps the returners gain confidence, learn new skills that they might have missed out on during their break. But what’s in it for organizations? An opportunity to evaluate potential candidates for jobs, be inclusive and make the most of skills and talent that women offer to the workforce.

Finding a job after a prolonged hiatus from work can be challenging for many women for a number of reasons – fear, worry, shame, confidence loss, and trepidation,bias, working hours, preconceived notions, among others. But progressive organizations are supporting women with returnship programs. Let’s look at some of the benefits of returnships to organizations and women professionals:

Returnships help change traditional perceptions 

“Employers tend to have a high level of bias against people who don’t have recent experience”, says Julianne Miles, co-founder and managing director of Women Returners programme in the UK. Organizations that encourage returnships set examples for the industry to support women reentering work. Accenture states on its website, “training in returnship programs is one of the most effective ways in which the organization makes inclusion and diversity a part of their company culture.” PayPal does it through its programme Recharge, while ThoughtWorks calls its programme Vapasi. GoDaddy, Coursera and ZenDesk are among other companies that have formal returnship programs.

Professionals can learn new skills 

A break from work can lead to professionals forgetting skills and missing out on new skills. That’s what happened with Shalini, now a Research Analyst at Factsuite. Marriage and family lead Shalini to take a two and a half years break from work. However, when Shalini decided to reenter work, she realized she had forgotten a lot of things in which she was once an expert.

She owes her reentry into work to her organization and colleagues, “Most organizations are hesitant of hiring professionals who have taken a break, especially women who have families and children. But that bias needs to be broken. I got a lot of support from my colleagues, plus, self motivation can make a lot of difference.” A lot of organizations fail to understand that the lack of skills in returning women can be handled with simple training programs.

Also Read: Best Job Boards In India

Women can explore new options

63%  of returner women professionals in the tech industry feel that the break was damaging to their career. One of the key boosters for encouraging women to rejoin work are returnship programs and an openness to recruiting women who took a break. Chandrakala, Research Analyst – Education, at Factsuite was worried that her five-year break from work would make it difficult for her to rejoin work. However, Factsuite’s encouraging and inclusive approach made it much easier for her. “There are so many women who do not have it as easy as I did. Married women with children get paid lesser than other women; are not given equal growth opportunities, and end up taking up jobs that do not explore their full potential,” she said. During her initial months after getting back to work, she received mentoring, coaching and upskilling and now has a permanent position at the company.

What can employers and HR do?

  • Understand what returning women want out of their jobs. Balance out the offerings.
  • Don’t make recruitment messages restrictive. Make it clear that your organization is open to women who want to restart their careers.
  • Make your brand appeal to women. Let inclusion and flexibility be part of your brand culture.
  • Raise awareness about your company culture on social and offline mediums.
  • Provide childcare support, feeding rooms and work-from-home days options for new mothers who are rejoining work.
  • Provide wellbeing initiatives such and physical and mental exercise programs, counseling and more.
  • Make returnship programmes a part of the organization.
  • Provide mentoring and training for returners.

In India, 25% of the workforce comprises women. 36% of them take a break at some point for various reasons. 91% of them want to get back to work after the break. However, 72% prefer not returning to the same employer. 63% who return to work after a break feel less valued. These numbers do not reveal the shortcomings of a particular industry, they show us how conservative and outdated the Indian work culture largely remains. 

Are you a female professional ready to get back to work after a hiatus? Or are you an organization that wants to embrace inclusivity and flexibility and encourage more women to return to work? With the numerous initiatives and easy ways in which organizations can encourage returnships, one can only hope that more number of companies open their doors to women who want to return.