To Fill Tech Talent Shortage, Companies Aim to Bring Women Back

Faced with a shortage of skilled job candidates in IT, cybersecurity, and other STEM fields, many organizations are taking unconventional approaches to recruiting tech talent, Carol Patton writes at HRE Online:

From hosting events that lure closet computer geeks to offering IT boot camps, some are making headway with innovations for finding talent that no self-respecting recruiter would have ever considered in the past. People without computer-science degrees and others with just high-school degrees are now proving their self-worth in a field that was once dominated by the educated elite.

Patton highlights what ThoughtWorks, a global IT consultancy, is doing to find candidates from nontraditional backgrounds who may not start out with all the requisite technical skills, but do have the “attitude, aptitude, and integrity” to succeed. In addition, ThoughtWorks is making a push to recruit more women into the tech field and to bring back mid-career professional women who have left the workforce for extended periods, typically to raise families:

Last year, it partnered with Code First Girls, a U.K. organization that works with companies and young women to increase the number of women in technology and entrepreneurship. Two of the organization’s employees are now based in the company’s office to help promote both the profession and the global consultancy, says [chief leadership officer Jackie] Kinsey.

As part of its plan to attract more women to IT, she says, the company also piloted “Back to IT” in 2007, which targeted women who took a career break from their technology jobs to raise children, for example. Through traditional advertising, 60 “returners” attended. They completed several online assessments to determine their IT-skill level and were then interviewed on-site. Twelve of them were selected to attend the company’s four?week, nonpaid training program covering new computer languages and were encouraged to apply for IT jobs at the company. Three were hired.

ThoughtWorks is hardly the only organization trying to do this, however. At the Wall Street Journal, Georgia Wells reports that many technology companies are looking to gain an edge in the tight talent market by reaching out to this same cohort:

“Every company today is dealing with how to bring in good talent,” says John Donahoe, chairman of the board of PayPal and former chief executive of eBay Inc. Hiring women returning to the workforce “is a source of competitive advantage.” Companies seeking out women who have been out of the workplace for an extended time say they are easier to hire because there is less competition for them. …

Many women face hurdles in returning to work after stepping away for an extended period to raise children, among other things. Nearly 90% attempt to resume their careers, but only 40% land full-time jobs, according to the Center for Talent Innovation, a nonprofit research organization focused on minority groups in the workplace. About 25% of women who attempt to resume their careers take part-time jobs, and roughly 10% become self-employed, the Center said.

Several organizations are getting in the business of getting these women back to full-time work. Back in February, Lisa Rabasca Roepe at Fast Company highlighted iRelaunch, a company that specializes in helping professionals return to work after extended absences and has piloted paid re-entry programs at large tech employers like IBM and Intel:

This is the perfect vehicle for employers to engage with people returning from a career break, says iRelaunch CEO Carol Fishman Cohen, because it allows the employer to evaluate the returning professional based on an actual work sample rather than a series of interviews. It also alleviates some of the typical concerns employers have about professionals returning to work after a multi-year career break, including apprehension that the returning employee might be technologically obsolete, might not know exactly what they want to do, and might have a hard time ramping up.

And last month, as Claire Zillman noted in Fortune, the data provider Return Path announced that its “returnship” program of internships for returning mid-career professionals had proven so successful that it was spinning it off into a separate nonprofit organization called Path Forward to set up similar programs for other companies:

What started as an internal Return Path initiative to increase the representation of women, particularly in technical roles, had grown so successful that the company figured it could launch the program as a standalone operation. Indeed, more than 80% of the 30 participants across six companies were offered continued employment at the conclusion of the program. …

The nonprofit will help corporations’ human resources departments set up mid-career internships—for a flat fee—with a few parameters in mind. The internships are to be 20-week, paid positions available to individuals—both men and women—who have been out of the professional workforce for at least two years to care for children, a spouse, or a parent. The hope is that employers will hire interns as full-time workers at the end of the temporary stint. Companies will choose whom to hire for their programs, but Path Forward’s website will serve as a database for all the available positions.