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Relaunching your career
Returnships are gaining popularity for women looking to re-enter the workforce. Learn what they’re all about.
With more than eight years of experience in project management, business analysis and quality assurance, Richa Chaturvedi decided to trade her work as a scrum master for dedicating her days to raising her children. But, after a three-year break from corporate life, she was ready to find her way back in. Richa connected with Women Back to Work, an organization that’s objective is to match “returners” with companies actively recruiting talent through “returnships.” She was accepted into the Farmers Insurance returnship program and subsequently accepted a full-time offer at the company.
Returnships help women return to the workforce after an extended break. Oftentimes they’re coming back to work after being a caregiver for aging family members or children, just like Richa. These programs are structured like internships, hence the name, and allow women to re-enter the workforce in a supportive environment, one in which they can explore their interests and learn about what’s changed in their absence.
Returnships are not a new concept, as Goldman Sachs trademarked the term in 2008. These programs are gaining the attention they deserve as the post-pandemic global workforce is reimagined.
The value of returnships
While returnships are for anyone who has been away from work for any reason and any extended period of time, some companies use these programs to increase diversity. This is because women are more likely to step away to become a caregiver during their career. They give companies access to untapped areas of the talent market that may otherwise be hard to achieve. Often, soft skills are keenly honed during time away from corporate life as caregiving requires multitasking, organization, leadership, decision-making, time management skills and empathy.
There’s good reason for the concerted effort to increase gender diversity. Research from McKinsey & Company shows organizations with women at the top deliver up to 50% higher company profits and share performance. But the so-called “broken rung,” in which women are underrepresented in entry-level management positions, is still apparent – and on-the-job training may be able to make the connection. These programs go beyond entry-level positions, with Boeing’s Return Flight Program, for example, offering a range of opportunities that include highly skilled technical and engineering positions.
Each company has its own application requirements and program structures. It may be called a returning professional internship, career relaunch program, return-to-work program or career re-entry program. Typical program duration can range from a few weeks to a few months. And many provide the opportunity of a full-time offer upon completion of the program.
Companies that offer return-to-work programs show they value women who have experience and strong skill sets, even if they have gaps on their resumes. So they typically offer flexible working arrangements that benefit women’s careers as well. It’s a good bet that these companies will be supportive as you embark on a new career journey.
Other career reactivators
COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on women’s careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, every one of the 140,000 jobs lost last December were jobs held by women. While returnships may not be able to solve what’s been labeled the “she-cession” single-handedly, they offer a beacon of hope for women finding workforce re-entry challenging in this labor market.
There is a growing roster of companies offering relaunch programs and companies widening eligibility requirements – and opportunities. Reported by Fortune, applications for IBM’s Tech Re-Entry Program in January and February increased 167% from a year earlier, before the pandemic. The tech giant conventionally limited its program to people out of work for at least two years but has opened the application process to those who left as recently as a year ago.
In addition to returnships, which can be competitive, there are other routes to getting back to the boardroom (albeit virtually right now). Consider these ways to restart your career:
- Further your education. Aside from traditional degrees, consider taking certification classes or online education courses to refresh your skills.
- Join a professional association. This may provide the opportunity to network with people in the field or take part in continuing education seminars.
- Connect with former colleagues. Get on LinkedIn and see where your connections are working. Let them know you’re considering getting back into the workforce.
- Strategically volunteer. Find a charity you’re passionate about and offer your time and skills. It’ll get your juices flowing again and might lead to an unexpected job prospect.
- Hire a career coach. Especially if you’re not sure what direction you want to head, a career coach can help you rediscover your professional interests and create a plan of action to achieve your new goals.
Whether it’s only been a modest time out of the workforce or several years since you lived the corporate life, returnships provide a smooth re-entry blueprint worth exploring. Consider which companies in your desired industry offer these types of opportunities. This is the chance to start fresh. With learning as the objective, returnships should inspire you and act as a guide to launching the next chapter of your career.
Embrace your resume gaps and strategically bridge them with these tips:
- Be honest. Recruiters and hiring managers are people too; they know life happens. Proactively address gaps in your resume and during the interview process.
- Give explanation. Automation in the hiring process may be programmed to look for resume gaps, so cover all years with an entry and explanation.
- Be creative. Add any volunteering or courses you took to keep your skills sharp. Consider nodding to the soft skills you gained as well.
Sources: npr.org; fortune.com; boeing.com; womenbacktowork.org; mckinsey.com; trademarks.justia.com
Full hands, full hearts
Becoming a caregiver is a love story that, like others, has obstacles to overcome.
A long-retired Army nurse, Nina was living alone in the home that she and her husband bought when they retired to Florida some 40 years prior. Over time, she found herself driving less often, sometimes skipping Sunday service and ending her 30-year run as a museum docent. But Nina could still get around, taking short trips for groceries and an occasional visit. Well into her 80s, she kept finding ways to make it work. Until she couldn’t.
It was around noon when Nina’s only daughter, Darcy, got a call. A friend found Nina on the living room floor, unable to do more than shout for help.
Darcy arranged for an eldercare professional to check in every day, but Nina’s health continued to decline. When the cycle of hospital visits and nursing home stays became too much, Darcy and her husband decided to invite Nina to live with them and their teenage children. She would work from home three days a week and care for her mother, sometimes with the help of an in-home nurse or physical therapist.
It was hard – but they made do. Yet she, like many other women, paid the price in other ways.
Studies show that women are at greater risk of experiencing career and financial gaps due to caring for others. But being prepared can better position you and your family to care for loved ones without sacrificing your emotional, physical or financial well-being.
The bottom line
As Americans live longer, the caregiving community is growing. Many of us prefer to live at home and often rely on those closest to us for support. Right now, there are approximately 53 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. Women make up 61% of them, serving as hands-on healthcare providers, care managers, decision-makers and advocates.
The labor of love takes a toll though. It’s common for women to leave the workplace altogether to assume the caregiver role full time (and this is after they may already be making less because they took a break earlier in their career to care for children). That decision, though, will likely reduce their future Social Security payouts as well as their ability to save for retirement.
Another consideration: Who will fund the care for your loved one? If you will be helping monetarily, make sure you don’t jeopardize your own retirement or your children’s college funds. It’s wise to talk to your financial advisor about how to maximize household Social Security, replace lost income and get your own long-term care insurance, as well as what tradeoffs you may be willing to make.
Caring for a friend or family member is a noble act of love that has the power to deepen relationships at a time when it’s needed most. Indeed, it’s a labor of love with physical, emotional and financial obstacles, but success is possible with the help of friends, family and some smart financial planning.
To reduce the pressure of supporting a loved one:
- Put a plan in place before you need it so you’re not scrambling under duress.
- Make a list of ways in which others can help and let them choose what they can take on.
- Reach out to family, friends and fellow caregivers for a break and welcome company.
- Set the tone with other loved ones as early as possible, and let others offer help. As responsibilities grow, they will expect to continue offering support.
Do’s and don’ts of managing up
Working remotely can add an extra challenge to building effective relationships; conquer it with these tips.
It may feel like a challenge to get face time with your boss – and especially so with the transition to remote working. Every interaction counts.
Managing up can already be a tricky balance. But building a strong relationship with your manager by showing you care about their objectives and preferences helps build trust and accelerate productivity.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to help guide you.
Do communicate relevant information – often and proactively. By keeping everyone in the know, especially your higher-ups, you’re building trust. It shows you have confidence in the progress you’ve made on projects and gives them the opportunity to see the impact you have on the business.
Do understand your manager’s objectives. Ask what strategic priorities are on their list so you can contribute appropriately. You’ll be able to make the meaningful connection between your tasks (and your team’s) and their vision.
Pro tip: Listen carefully to executive reports on companywide calls so you can weave what’s on the CEO’s mind into your list and incorporate those ideas into your strategies.
Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. When you’re across the hall from your boss, it’s easier to learn what they like via observation and interaction with others. Fast-track this process in a remote environment by clarifying what success would look like in their opinion.
Do seek out stretch assignments. It might seem harder to put your hand up when you’re not physically present in a conference room, but be mindfully present in group conversations (you know, the ones where we see everyone trying to multitask) and offer smart solutions you’re willing to take on.
Don’t work on your boss’ pet projects or become their notetaker. Be sure you’re strategic in what you offer to assist with and ensure it aligns with your own remit. Straying can lead to disappointing your own team or causing favoritism among peers.
Do get to know your boss’ likes and dislikes so you can predict what they’ll ask for next. If last time you sent a monthly management report they asked for more metrics, incorporate them proactively next time.
Don’t overstep. The hardest part about managing up is understanding the balance. This is going to differ depending on the relationship you have with your boss as well as their management style. Take time to analyze their management style before making too bold a move.
Do manage “around” your direct manager. Other people who influence your manager – their boss, peers or assistants – are good connections to make. It doesn’t hurt for your name to come up as your manager collaborates with those surrounding them.
If you’ve been working remotely:
- Make sure you have regular one-on-one check-ins scheduled with your boss and prepare talking points to help guide your conversations.
- Stay engaged during wider group discussions so you can proactively incorporate these ideas into your everyday tasks.
Sources: forbes.com; remote.co