The Rise of the Returnship

Four women having a meeting
March 25, 2021

On a career break and want to get back to work, but don’t know where to start?

All too frequently we hear from mothers on a career break describing that their route back to work isn’t as plain sailing as they hoped it would be when you’ve got a gap on your CV.  Perhaps you can relate to these common career-break concerns and the challenges of re-entering the workplace after leaving an established career:

  • Feeling judged for taking time out to focus on family
  • A loss of confidence or feeling ‘out of practice’ and unsure of yourself
  • Convinced that there are younger, more ambitious women out there who are better poised to do the job
  • Feeling out of touch and behind on the latest technology and market trends
  • Potential employers will dismiss you when applying for roles because of long gaps on your CV
  • Feeling it’s unlikely you’ll return to the same level of seniority or pay as before your break

The good news is that gender diversity is still a top priority across the UK.  Business leaders are recognising that not everyone has a traditional career path and are therefore seeking out return-to-work programmes as a compelling and effective way to recapture this ‘lost’ talent in the workforce.

Where did the ‘Returnship’ start?

The first return to work programme was introduced in 2008 by Goldman Sachs in the USA, who trademarked the term “Returnship”. Today there are more than 160 diverse companies across the globe investing in return-to-work programmes.  

What exactly is a return to work programme?

Each company structures their programme slightly differently and they all have varying names such as Inclusivity's 2021 Cross-market Insurance Returners Programme or The Reignite Academy for lawyers.

You can expect the following:

  • A higher-level internship for experienced individuals (men and women) who have taken voluntary, extended time out from their careers and are now interested in re-igniting their field of expertise or professional career back in the workplace
  • The duration is variable but many run over a 3-6 month period
  • Typically, they are fixed-term contracts, offering remuneration commensurate with experience
  • They aim to provide support, training and mentorship, helping individuals reacquaint themselves with the culture and pace of the present work environment and improve skills that may have become a bit rusty
  • They don’t guarantee long-term employment, rather offering the possibility of a permanent role at the end of the programme.  Success rate is high (between 50 -100 % are offered permanent employment) after enrolling on a programme and many companies offer some level of flexibility, recognising the need to continue to fulfil your family commitments

How do you qualify?

Each company will set up specific criteria for applicants but there are a few generally accepted requirements that apply to most of the current UK returnship programmes:

  • A career break of at least 2 years, although recently some do now allow you to apply if you are currently working but not making the best use of your skills and experience
  • A specific level of experience, obviously with the understanding that you may be a bit rusty and often also a minimum educational or professional qualification

It’s a win-win situation

Returnships offer a practical solution to help companies stay competitive by attracting, retaining and supporting a group of highly-qualified, experienced and motivated professionals.  Return on investment is extremely high – companies broaden female representation at multiple levels, reinforce their commitments to diversity and flexibility and ultimately it leads to improved overall business results.

As a mother, you benefit from improving your skills and capabilities that may have been languishing at home for a few years.  Your gaps in technology advancements or knowledge base will be brought up to speed in a supportive environment.  Importantly, your confidence will be boosted with dedicated coaching, training sessions and mentoring – everything you need to re-acclimatise to the current working environment. 

Where to next?

Momentum is building, but there are still plenty of opportunities for more businesses to get on board. 

Forward-thinking companies know that the calibre of mothers returning to work is high, their work ethic and loyalty unwavering.  That’s why 2to3days has partnered with Inclusivity Partners to better understand how companies can set more of these programmes up for success and attract the best candidates (yes, that’s you!).  

Together, we’ll help to remove the fear of taking time out for family or other responsibilities and give you the confidence that pausing on your working commitments is not an insurmountable obstacle. The more returnships we can support, the more you can feel encouraged to take that career break, knowing your skills and experience will be highly valued by potential employers when you are ready to return.

This blog post was first published in January 2019, and was updated in March 2021


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