women in the workplace

Embracing Returnships for Women to Combat Effects of Pandemic

By Kimberly Kafafian


I hate to say it because we’re in the middle of Women’s History Month, but we’re experiencing a “shecession”. This term was coined by C. Nicole Mason, president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And, unfortunately, it’s spot on. The pandemic disproportionately left millions of women out of work due to circumstances beyond their control, and sadly the post pandemic job recovery has been slower for them than their male counterparts. I honestly cannot believe that after all the gains we’ve made that we’re seeing women’s participation in the workforce numbers that are at a 33-year low. It’s going to require a lot of effort from all stakeholders to chip away at the damage that’s been done. One way organizations can help women re-enter the workforce and put their careers back on track is through returnships.

How Returnships Can Help Women Recover Careers

Career gaps, in general, have significant impacts. They result in lower wages and lost advancement opportunities, which in turn leads to reduced lifetime earning potential. Plus the longer women are out of the workforce, the harder it is for them to find a job since employers tend to view career gaps on a resume negatively. But the current gaps are not normal. Companies need to view these lapses differently in light of pandemic-related school and daycare shutdowns. The caregiving conflict put families in unfathomable positions. Returnships can help counteract the deleterious effects of the pandemic on women. 

What is a returnship? It’s basically an internship that helps those who have left the workforce and are now wishing to re-enter it. Usually it provides extra training and affords valuable mentorships. The time of the returnship varies, but typically the returner is hired when it has ended. While it may seem that companies are doing women a favor by offering returnships, in actuality, the returnship is mutually beneficial. Workers can refresh their skills, learn new ones, build connections, and boost experience, while employers have an opportunity to evaluate workers before hiring them on a full-time basis. And right now they are a great way for companies to combat the Great Resignation.

Many companies have had returnships in place long before the pandemic, such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Intuit and IBM. Wells Fargo had planned their returnship prior to COVID, but it didn’t launch until the pandemic was in full swing. Amazon expanded its returnship program to entice women back last June. Others like Grubhub and Audible recently created returnship programs. All of these companies realize the benefits returnships bring. Research shows that everyone benefits – including the organizations – when women join the workforce.

Of course, returnships will only be effective if they are paired with other initiatives, such as remote work opportunities, flexible hours, and child care. But they are a step in the right direction to helping women successfully re-enter the workforce.


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