The economic fluctuations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic left millions of Americans out of work, but women were particularly impacted by the turmoil. Nearly 1.8 million women dropped out of the labor force amid the pandemic, and while job growth is now surging and economists predict that 2021 will be the best year for growth in almost four decades, women – especially low-income women and women of color – are struggling with how and when to go back to work.
Let’s be clear, the pandemic did not create this problem – growth in women’s participation in the workforce has been stagnant since the turn of millennium, and women have held more jobs than men just twice in the last twenty years: in 2010 and in January 2020. To remedy this situation, employers and the federal government need to incentivize more women to get back in the job market with paid family leave, flexible work schedules, and remote work options.
Returnships Help Women Re-enter to the Workforce
But even with these incentives, starting a new job can be daunting, especially for someone who has been out of work for a while, and many potential employees would relish an opportunity to refresh their skills, learn new ones, boost their experience, and expand their network before diving headfirst into a new career. A “returnship” – or career comeback program — ticks off all these boxes and gives an employer the bonus of testing out a potential employee before she is brought on full time.
A returnship is like an internship for people looking to jump back into the labor force after taking a hiatus from a full-time job. Like an internship, it usually lasts a few weeks to a few months, but a returnship generally offers pay that is commensurate with a person’s level of experience and the job they are performing. These programs also typically provide extra training and mentorships that not only help women readjust to working but let them acquire news skills and hone those that may have become rusty during their time away from the office. For example, earlier this year, Google announced a targeted training program entitled Grow with Google: Black Women Lead, an initiative to train 100,000 Black women in in-demand digital skills by 2022.
Even before the pandemic, Randstad highlighted the benefits of returnships as a way for women to prepare for the displacement of automation, and the opportunities offered in a returnship program can also have an enormous impact on women who may be struggling with how to re-enter the workforce after COVID-19. But ultimately, these programs will only be effective if they are paired with other initiatives aimed at helping women shoulder their myriad personal responsibilities as well.
Flexibility and Benefits Key to Supporting Working Mothers
In a recent poll by Monster, 81% of respondents said that work flexibility – things like remote work opportunities and flexible hours – was the single most important thing a company could do to support employees with children. Other options include providing quality child-care and nursing facilities on site or day care assistance and things like “stork” parking for new mothers returning to the office. In a separate Monster poll, 67% of parents and caregivers said that flexibility for childcare was even more important to them than salary when considering a new job.
Communication, Coaching, and Mentorships Critical to Success
Another way companies can help women transition back into the workforce is to establish a dedicated channel for returning employees to voice their concerns and seek guidance. In addition to forming these types of channels, organizations should consider enlisting HR practitioners, managers and leadership team members to form an in-house support group that offers training, mentoring and guidance also help returning women employees perform confidently in their roles and succeed in the company.
Yet despite the many benefits, professional women often lack mentorship guidance and support. A survey of mid and senior-level female business leaders found that 63% never had a mentor, even though 67% thought that having a mentor was highly important in helping grow their careers.
To help address this development gap, coaching and mentorships should start on day one of the onboarding process, which should also include subjects like work-life balance, which is often a top-of-mind issue with people returning after caregiving and is also one of the top reasons people are exiting the workforce. The importance of a streamlined and well-planned onboarding process cannot be overstated as a systematic process brings new employees up to speed 50% faster and thus allows them to contribute more quickly and efficiently.
“Someone participating in a returnship is going through a tremendous, fast change and will need human guidance to succeed. That guidance in the form of coaching can be extremely effective,” said Jeanne Schad, Talent Solutions & Strategy Practice Lead at Randstad RiseSmart. “The coaching will help the individual returning to the workforce more quickly process and move through the tremendous change and personal adaptations required to succeed after being away from a professional environment.”
Rethinking Resume Gaps to Help Close the Talent Gap
Whether looking to hire for a returnship or for a full-time position, companies should also look beyond traditional work experience when evaluating talent. Women who have taken time away from a traditional career path are not sitting idly. Many have experience volunteering or have done freelance work in their respective fields. Others have taken time off to pursue a higher education degree or have worked in another field with transferable skills. The key here is to look beyond what is traditionally on a CV when helping women transition back into the working world because many skills are learned outside the office.
COVID-19 may have left millions of women without a job, but as we slowly recover from the pandemic, we have the chance to inject life into women’s participation in the workforce. Returnships can be key to bringing women back to offices nationwide and helping them transition back into the working world, but companies must be dedicated to making progress and looking beyond their normal avenues for new hires.
This article was written by Rebecca Henderson from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.