How hard is it to return to work after you've had children or spent years taking care of a sick relative? It can be overwhelming. It's difficult not only to find and convince skeptical employers who see a big gap on your resume to consider you after years of being outside the regular workforce, but also to get up to speed with the rapid pace of technological change. For people in this position — men and women both but in particular mothers — there's a new opportunity emerging: a "returnship."
Leading the way with this innovative idea is Path Forward, a nonprofit based in New York but with a solid Silicon Valley presence and a growing office in Denver. A bit like an internship, but for people who have five or more years of work experience, a Path Forward returnship places smart, ambitious people into organizations so they can learn, absorb, and experiment with a new career.
We're a Partner (Your Company Could Be, Too)
We're fully on board with this idea. As our CEO, Matthew Glotzbach notes, "Quizlet’s success as an online learning community depends on a strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Path Forward’s mission aligns with our commitment to building a team that is representative of the diverse communities we serve, and an open, inclusive work environment where all employees can thrive."
We are proud to be joining companies like Apple, GitHub, PayPal, Stripe, Wal-Mart, and many others who have embraced returnships. We're growing fast and appreciate the skills (and especially the perspective) returning workers can contribute as we expand Quizlet across the Internet and around the world. These aren't entry-level jobs but paid, 16-week stints working right alongside the founder, CEO, engineers, marketers, user operations folks — everyone on our team.
The program is already a success from a basic statistical perspective, with Tami Forman, Executive Director of Path Forward noting, "about 81% of our graduates are employed within six months after the end of the program. A lot of those folks are employed at a company where they do their internship." That's a very promising start, and some companies are reporting big wins as they incorporate this model into their regular hiring practices. "We have partners that convert 100% of their cohort or close to 100%, so we know that companies are finding people they want to keep on their team," reports Forman.
Why Women (Especially) Love This Program
This program isn't just for women, but it's especially appealing to them because they forgo work to become caregivers at much higher levels than men. "When people think about stay-at-home moms they have a bias about them in terms of their ambition," says Forman. "By the way I think that's also very true for men. In fact, I think it's actually more
true for stay-at-home dads who seek to return to the workforce because of what we think about gender roles and what we then assume about a man who makes that choice."
No matter the gender, evidence shows a significant gap in your resume can lead to discrimination. Yet it feels extra challenging to be a stay-at-home mom returning to work. A recent Brookings Institution study found that 74 percent of prime working-age women are participating in the paid workforce, as compared to 88 percent of prime working-age men. The simple reason for this disparity is caregiving. Thirty-six percent of non-workforce participants are women in caregiving roles, while only 3 percent are men. When women are 12 times more likely to be out of the workforce than men, it's easy to see why returnships are particularly appealing for, and often geared toward, returning mothers.
A key finding of The Brookings Institution's report Who Is Out of the Labor Force? shows how large the gap is for returning moms. They are 12X more likely to be out of the workforce than men because of their caregiving choices.
"We tend to have really kind of old-fashioned and biased notions about women who stay at home and we make negative assumptions about their ambition and drive," says Forman. "And I think what managers find much to their surprise is that when women come into these programs, they're really motivated and extremely driven to prove that they can hold their own and can do all the things that you need them to do," says Forman.
Perhaps the best indication that this program is succeeding? As Forman notes, "We are starting to see some folks in our early cohorts who've been promoted in their companies. Over the long term we want to show not just that companies are finding great employees and women are getting jobs but that women are actually advancing their careers within these companies and beyond."
Bloomberg Walmart Is Joining a Growing Movement to Get Stay-At-Home Moms [Video]
Forbes: Why Millions of Americans Stay Out of the Workforce [Infographic]