Patricia Boothe, a senior vice president at Trimble, facilitated Trimble’s returnship program launch this year, in partnership with Path Forward. She talks to us about the success of Trimble’s pilot program, what surprised her most about working with returners, and why both she and her colleagues can’t wait to launch a second program.
What’s your role at Trimble and how long have you been at the company?
I’m a senior vice president at Trimble, and I also act as the executive sponsor for our diversity initiative. I’m approaching 22 years at the company, which I can hardly believe. This was my first people manager job, and I started back in January 2000 – a new millennium, a new job!
You played a pivotal role in bringing the Path Forward program to Trimble. How did the idea come to be and how does this initiative support Trimble’s larger goals of creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce?
Several years ago, I was having a conversation with one of our senior HR representatives, who had been gathering some data around the progression of women at the company. And there was one statistic that stuck out to her, which indicated that women of a certain age bracket were leaving their roles and not coming back. We theorized that perhaps that had to do with caregiving, and they were leaving to raise or start a family. I raised this topic with my direct HR partner at the time and she mentioned that she thought there were organizations out there that would help companies encourage people to come back into the workforce, which I thought was interesting. Then, several years later, I raised the topic again in a quarterly business review with our new CEO and CFO. And, our CFO brought up Path Forward as a company that could help. I made an inquiry on the site, Path Forward quickly reached back out to me, and we now have this beautiful relationship and I’m really thrilled to say that we launched our first returnship cohort in September 2021.
Trimble formally launched its Diversity and Inclusion initiatives at the start of 2020. And while I can honestly say that we are still developing, I can also say with confidence that DEI is now part of Trimble’s DNA.
Candidly, I saw the returnship program as a vehicle to make an immediate impact on gender diversity, but I’ve learned through the course of working with Path Forward and now our direct experience with the cohort that returnships extend to all demographics and all underrepresented groups.
Additionally, beyond hiring and talent acquisition, Trimble’s diversity strategy includes a community outreach component, and I actually see the returnships falling within this category. We are creating opportunities for an overlooked, qualified and deserving talent pool.
Even after bringing the program into Trimble as an executive sponsor, you stayed very closely involved throughout the entire process. Why was this program so personally important to you?
I think it’s fair to say that, with any pilot program, you increase the chances of its success by engaging people who are truly passionate about it. My personal connection to the program comes from the fact that I’m at a stage of my career where you start thinking about making lasting, positive change, and wondering what my Trimble legacy is going to be. And if I can make a positive impact on women and their experience here at Trimble, and help them be able to have the same wonderful experience that I have, then I want to do so. That’s why I’m involved in driving this program hard.
What has the response to the program been internally? What sort of feedback have you gotten from managers?
I don’t even have enough superlatives to use in describing the feedback to this program. The response has just been phenomenal, from every person who becomes exposed to the program and educated about returnships – be it members of our returnship core team, to hiring managers and the executive team. Before the first program even finished, I had peers coming up to me to ask if they needed to wait for the next cohort to get a returnship program going on their team. If I could summarize the feedback from managers, it would be amazement. They have been, across the board, impressed with the depth and breadth of talent that we’ve been able to access through working with Path Forward.
What did you find most helpful about the support Path Forward provided as the program was getting up and running at Trimble?
Path Forward has worked with Trimble so deeply, and made it easy to get this program started. The talent pool that you can access is just unmatched.
Path Forward has coached us every step of the way. They helped us overhaul our job descriptions, establish a more effective onboarding process, and trained us on how to interview and not over-interview. Path Forward taught us to look beyond gaps on resume timelines, and to be curious, rather than dismissive, of those gaps. I truly consider this a real partnership. The real highlight to all that Path Forward has taught us, is to bring a little more humanity into the hiring process. There’s an empathy that needs to be encouraged when you start working with returners. It’s not just about the credentials, the job, or the work experience, but the life experience they have, which brings a tremendous value to the workplace.
Can you share a little bit more about the support that Trimble provides to the returners now that they’re on board and in flight?
We’ve provided a mentor for every returner, who is separate from the hiring manager. We’ve also established a platform for onboarding, which contains calendars, company information, anything else a new hire may want to leverage, as well as a chat room for the cohort to have their own private network. We have weekly meetings with both the returners and their hiring managers, so that we can get a sense of how the program is going from both angles. These meetings are a great place to get a sense of what returners and hiring managers need and how we can help. Overall, we’ve done our best to create a sort of network or support system around the returnship cohort, which so far has led to great success.
What attributes do you think returners uniquely provide to the workplace at large? What special characteristics do they bring to Trimble in particular?
Firstly, the work experience that they bring from their pre-break careers is tremendous. We’ve had such an impressive diversity of experience. But what’s truly unique about returners is their life experience. For those who were out of the workforce raising a family, and when you think about what all that entails, it includes multi-tasking, juggling everything, getting way more done than they have time to do. They’ve been scheduling, managing calendars, and trying to fit together different needs and priorities, and basically acting as the CEOs of the family. For returners who took time out to care give, such as for an ill family member, they’ve faced a lot of different adversities and challenges, for which they’ve had to make tough decisions, perhaps without 100% of the information. In all of these scenarios I’m painting, all of these experiences are applicable to any career.
Has anything surprised you about the returnship program at Trimble?
There have been positive surprises. We’ve provided a lot of support through the onboarding process, and have tried to acknowledge that there’s an anxiety for folks who are coming back to work, from all manner of backgrounds and experiences, which led us to start out in a very hands-on manner with the cohort. But by the end of the first week, we were getting feedback from the cohort that they were ready for more challenges, and were eager to begin to contribute and add value. The speed with which our cohort felt ready to become involved in the business was a fantastic surprise, but perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise!
What is your biggest takeaway from this program so far?
My biggest takeaway is, why didn’t we do this program years ago? I’m now looking into how I can drive similar programs at Trimble, for other underrepresented groups.
What advice would you give to other leaders at other organizations who haven’t started a return ship program yet or are looking to start one but aren’t sure about that?
I would say, just do it. I haven’t come across a single downside to the returnship program approach. We accessed a talent pool of several hundred job candidates in a single event by working with Path Forward. And I can’t identify another similar activity or event that has provided Trimble such reach, with such breadth and depth of talent.
In order to be truly successful, I think there has to be executive sponsorship, and find managers within the company who are passionate about launching the program. It’s a team effort, but once you get started, you will have others knocking on your door wanting to assist with the program and incorporate it into their teams. It’s a great feeling.