New Parents Aren’t the Only Employees Who Need Support in Returning to Work

New Parents Aren’t the Only Employees Who Need Support in Returning to Work

As organizations continue to lean on benefits as a key opportunity to differentiate themselves in a competitive talent market, many are expanding the scope and inclusiveness of their parental leave offerings, granting more paid time away from work to employees of all genders who become parents through birth, adoption, and surrogacy alike. This is partly a matter of making benefits more generous overall, but it’s also about signaling the organization’s commitment to values of diversity and inclusion.

Organizations are also paying more attention to helping working parents and caregivers re-enter the workforce after taking time away to care for their children or sick or elderly relatives. These “returnship” initiatives are specifically geared toward supporting women, who are more likely than men to take such career breaks. Caring for others isn’t the only obligation that forces employees to spend extended periods away from work, however; sometimes, it’s their own health.

In a recent story, Glenn Howatt from the Star Tribune highlighted how advances in cancer detection and treatment are improving the health outcomes of patients, but noted that cancer survivors often don’t get much support in returning to work. From the perspective of HR, the management of cancer patients’ absences may seem similar to managing other instances of medical leave or short-term disability. However, employment experts tell Howatt that standard approaches to managing the exits and subsequent re-entries of employees can’t be so readily applied to cancer patients’ situations:

“The length of leave, 12 weeks, is not a lot for people with a lot of cancers,” said Ann Hodges, an emeritus professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. It’s unclear how many cancer patients lose employment because they’re not ready to return to work. But studies show that just 40 percent are back at work within six months. After a year, it’s still just 62 percent. Researchers have also found that loss of income due to illness is a major contributor to bankruptcy — and that cancer patients are more likely to declare bankruptcy.

The emotional experience of fighting and managing cancer undoubtedly leaves a lasting impression on the personal and professional lives of survivors. Employers of cancer patients have the power to decide whether the impression they make on their employees during this time will be positive or negative.

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Businesses Expand Benefits to Retain Working Mothers

Businesses Expand Benefits to Retain Working Mothers

As more and more companies recognize the need to keep women in the workforce after they become mothers, the most progressive employers have introduced a range of new benefits to cater specifically to the needs of working parents. Quartz’s Jenny Anderson takes a look at the latest report from Working Mother highlighting the 100 US companies with the best benefits for moms and showing the lengths they are going to in order to retain them:

Cutting-edge companies on this front, including Deloitte, IBM, McKinsey, UBS, and Unilever, have delved into the most painful tradeoffs inherent to hard work: kids in need, household management, and family illness. The response includes help for parents whose kids have autism (88% of Working Mother’s top 100 companies offer this type of support), college coaching for teens (63% of the top 100 offer it), letting new moms phase back into work gradually with full pay (70% offer this), and even homework hotlines, which one-quarter of Working Mother’s top 100 offer. …

Working Mother, which has compiled the list for 32 years, picks its best companies based on 400 questions about a range of factors, including leave policies, workforce representation, benefits, childcare, advancement programs, and flexibility policies. … The most competitive companies go deeper, though, focusing on employees’ needs after parental leave, and how to help them stay. More companies are now willing to say, “‘I will pay more, have less in my bottom line, but I will keep employees,’” says [Subha Barry, senior vice president & managing director of Working Mother Media].

Retention is indeed the name of the game here, as the absence of family-friendly policies is a significant driver of attrition among working mothers.

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IBM’s Re-Entry Program Targets Mid-Career Women

IBM’s Re-Entry Program Targets Mid-Career Women

Faced with a large number of women in STEM fields who exit the workforce mid-career, many employers in the tech sector have been looking for ways to bring these women back, both to address overall skills shortages and to improve diversity and inclusion. These women are typically mothers who leave their jobs either to devote their time exclusively to raising children or in response to workplace cultures that don’t allow them to balance family and career; though they may not intend to drop out of the job market permanently, in their fast-changing fields, a career gap of just few years can make it very hard to re-enter—and some of these women have gaps of a decade or more.

To help them get back on their professional feet, some companies have launched re-entry initiatives or “returnships”: internship or mentorship programs for mid-career employees that enable them to rapidly update their skills and re-establish their professional networks. Erin Carson at CNET profiles IBM’s re-entry program, a 12-week internship that places mid-career women with STEM backgrounds in one of the company’s various business lines:

Participants get a mentor and work on an actual project, whether it’s in data analytics or programming. The idea is that the program can create a smooth transition for its interns, get them up to speed and give managers a chance to see the interns’ work before hiring them.

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Returnships Show Promise for Women in Advertising

Returnships Show Promise for Women in Advertising

In the past year, we’ve been hearing more and more about “returnships”: programs similar to internships for mid-career professionals looking to re-enter the workforce after taking extended career breaks to raise children or care for sick or elderly relatives. While the concept of the returnship is not new, today’s tight talent market has sparked renewed interest in it. Because the vast majority of employees who fit that description are women, returnships have been held up as a way to fill gaps in critical talent segments like tech by reaching out to an oft-neglected cohort, and Silicon Valley employers have been working with dedicated organizations like iRelaunch and Path Forward to bring more mid-career women back in the door. These programs are showing mixed results so far, though it is early days yet and the talent shortage they are meant to address is unlikely to abate anytime soon.

Now, Digiday’s Tanya Dua reports, ad agencies are also beginning to embrace returnships as a partial solution to their industry’s talent and diversity challenges. Advertising is particularly in need of such programs, Dua writes, as “the very nature of the agency business makes it hard for people with résumé gaps to make a return”:

The rapidly evolving state of modern media, marketing and technology makes it harder for returnees to play catch-up. Accompanying that struggle is the assumption that such returnees will not be able to put in as many hours and deal with the unpredictable nature of client demands.

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Seven More Tech Companies Join ‘Returnship’ Program for Mid-Career Caregivers

Seven More Tech Companies Join ‘Returnship’ Program for Mid-Career Caregivers

Last August, a nonprofit organization called Path Forward launched a program of “returnships” with six Silicon Valley employers—GoDaddy, Zendesk, Demandbase, Coursera, CloudFlare and Instacart—to help mid-career tech professionals return to the workforce after taking career breaks to care for children or elderly relatives. Many of these returnees are women, as they are still more likely than men to take on caregiving roles, and many in the tech sector believe that bringing these women back into the fold is a critical step toward addressing shortages in key talent segments.

This week, Return Path announced a second cohort of returnships with seven other tech employers, Fortune’s Claire Zillman reports:

The employers include data analytics company Verisk Analytics; Internet advertising and ad management software provider AppNexus; Medallia, a customer feedback solutions provider; Intacct, a company that provides financial management software; Volta, which operates an electric car charger network; Quantcast, a digital marketing company; and Cloudera, a software company that provides data analytics and management products. … The seven new companies partnering with Path Forward want to fill about 30 positions in fields like engineering, marketing, professional services, technical operations, and sales.

Zillman also checks in on how Return Path’s first cohort fared:

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For Helping Women Get Back to Work, ‘Returnships’ Are a Good First Step (But Just a First Step)

For Helping Women Get Back to Work, ‘Returnships’ Are a Good First Step (But Just a First Step)

Faced with a shortage of skilled tech talent, many organizations are looking to bring back mid-career professionals (the vast majority of them women) who left the workforce for lengthy periods of time to care for children or elderly relatives and are looking to return. Several organizations, including iRelaunch and the nonprofit Path Forward, a project by the data provider Return Path, have been set up specifically to facilitate these re-entries, using internships, mentorships, and other methods to help returnees update their skills and re-acclimate to office life. Last week, Path Forward announced the launch of its return-to-work program in California, in which six Silicon Valley employers are participating:

Beginning in October, GoDaddy, Zendesk, Demandbase, Coursera, CloudFlare and Instacart will offer multiple jobs, in the form of 18-week paid internships, to give people who wish to return to the workplace an on-ramp back into their careers. The program is open to mid-career professionals with a minimum of five years of work experience who have taken at least two years out of the workforce to take care of their kids, their parents or other loved ones. Jobs span a wide variety of functions, including marketing, engineering and sales. Applications are now being accepted directly by each company and a complete list of opportunities can be found at pathforward.org.

Path Forward’s director tells the Washington Post’s Jena McGregor that she plans to expand the program to other parts of the country in the coming months:

While the program is open to men who have spent at least two years out of the workplace as a caregiver, it is expected to be filled largely by women. It is aimed at helping interns confront the stigma they face about time away. Also tech companies get a chance to improve their reputation as places that too many women leave. “If you’re wanting more women at the senior level, this is a way to jump-start that,” said Tami Forman, the executive director of Path Forward. Forman said there’s been enough interest from other companies that she plans to start two to three more groups of these untraditional interns (who, yes, are paid) in several cities early next year, each with six to 10 tech companies.

While the “returnship” model has generated a lot of enthusiasm, McGregor points out that they don’t necessarily work for every industry, and shouldn’t be taken as a cure-all for the challenge of bringing mid-career women back to work:

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