Path Forward Joins Talent Leaders to Talk Returnship Successes at Grace Hopper Celebration 2019

Thousands of women leave the workforce each year due to caregiving responsibilities, and many of them struggle to return to their professions. Companies, meanwhile, claim a lack of qualified candidates as a reason for recruiting so few mid-career women. At the 2019 Grace Hopper Celebration, Path Forward’s founding CEO Tami Forman joined talent leaders from four major companies to present one innovative solution to this problem: returnship programs. 

Tami moderated a conversation with talent leaders who have started returnship programs at their companies – Tracy Stone, Global Leader of Tech Women at Intuit; Bobbie Grafeld, VP of People at Walmart Labs; Janet VanHuysse, Head of People at Cloudflare; MJ Austin, Sr. Director of Tech Product Management at PayPal, pictured left to right above. Together they explored the ways that returnships have changed their approach to talent acquisition and helped them to find talented women, including female technologists, who are hiding in plain sight. 

Each panel member had success stories to share of how returnships at their companies have attracted talent that would otherwise have been overlooked. At Cloudflare, for instance, 91% of their returnship participants have been converted to full-time employees. After a 2018 pilot program that saw 75% of participants get converted, Walmart Labs  doubled the size of their returnship program and brought it to 5 cities across the U.S. 

These results have encouraged the talent leaders to make returnships an established piece of their company’s hiring plan. Janet VanHuysse noted that returnships are now part of Cloudflare’s strategy for attracting, hiring, and cultivating the talent that helps the company’s long-term growth. According to Bobbie Grafeld, Walmart Labs views returnships are a way for Walmart Labs to gain an edge over their competitors. And for Intuit, Tracy Stone called returnships “a new, normal way to gain talent” alongside job fairs and college internships, while also fulfilling the company’s Diversity & Inclusion goals.

For Tami Forman, it’s all about empowering caregivers, particularly women, who are 12 times more likely to take a career break to take care of a family member – a number that includes approximately 54,000 women with computer science and engineering degrees. “80% of all women [in the U.S.] become mothers,” Tami Forman explained. “While not all of these women will take career breaks, we can’t get to the Grace Hopper goal of 50/50 gender parity in tech by 2025 without thinking about how women can reenter the workforce when they do take time off.” 

For advice to other leaders who want to start returnship programs at their companies, the panel noted that making a returnship a reality is a collaborative effort. They recommend:

  • Get support from the top: Finding an executive who can champion the program is often the best way to get a program implemented at a company of almost any size. Finding the right executive may take a few tries. And it doesn’t have to be head of HR! 
  • Sell with data: Most executives want data to prove the value of an investment. Fortunately, returnships have a long and successful track record. Back your recommendation up with statistics and success stories from other companies to show the real value of returnships. 
  • Raise your hand to hire: While HR teams can be instrumental in getting these programs implemented, ground-level hiring managers can be very influential by raising their hand hire returnees. By showing a willingness to be part of the program you can give HR executives the incentive they need to support a pilot program.
  • Choose managers wisely: Being deliberate about choosing managers who are experienced managers, are interested in having returnees on their teams and are committed to hiring those who perform well.

MJ Austin of PayPal’s number one tip for companies who don’t know where to begin? “Talk to people who’ve done it before – or just talk to Tami.”

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can launch a returnship program at your company, email us at hello@pathforward.org.