Returnships support the female talent pipeline

by | Apr 18, 2017

The value of returnships

Returnships are a great way to support women after a career break


Returnships, are  internship-like programs for experienced workers seeking to re-enter the workforce after an extended career break. This is usually women who have taken parenting leave. Set up in the US by companies such as Sara Lee and Goldman Sachs they are gaining momentum elsewhere. This can involve the upskilling of competencies used in previous roles, or even retraining for a completely different career.

Read: 10 tips returning from maternity leave

What are returnships?

Typically returnships are offered on a short-term contract basis of 3-6 months. They allow a woman to return to the workplace giving the employer the opportunity to evaluate her ability,  opening up the possibility of an offer of a permanent role. Some employers target their own ex-employees with familiar track records and a known inside knowledge of the workings and culture of the company.

The career gap can be for any reason. It can be associated with maternity leave and child care, but increasingly women are also involved in elder or even self-care. Others just want a grown-up gap year to chill and do other things. Some make a strategic decision to return to their studies.  Returnships are also gender neutral as a search for work/life balance is something a growing number of men are now looking for, particularly Millennials.

Talented older women, employed in roles commensurate with their qualifications and previous experience, represent a significant gap in the workforce. Many companies lose discouraged female employees to competitors or self-employment. Many opt to stay in part-time roles or accept jobs that are below their education levels and capabilities, mainly because of uncreative recruitment and retention strategies which tend to reward and focus on continuous employment. Returnships offer all parties a chance to “kick-tires” and assess cultural fit. For the returner and employer, it is an equally low risk arrangement with potential upsides.

Read: How to plan a career pivot

Why returnships are good for business

The establishment of returnships allows organisations to diversify their workforces, which across the board research suggests increases shareholder value. They also helps to stem the leak in the female talent pipeline which sees significant mid-career churn for women in most organisations.


Returnship policies afford participants re-entry opportunities into the workplace in a controlled way. Many women are nervous about taking parenting leave and in today’s fast changing workplace environments  have not kept up to date. It’s not easy to do that if you are not physically there personally experiencing the changes. Returnships offer returners the possibility to make competency assessments, benefit from on-the-job peer training, or even formal in-house training, frequently with the support of a mentor.

What hasn’t changed for this group of talented women is their basic levels of education and previous skills and experience acquired in their pre-gap careers. Returnships are a perfect bridge to facilitate a smooth long-term return to the workforce.

It’s a win:win. It just takes some out of the box innovative recruitment thinking.

For more information on strengthening the female talent pipeline Contact 3Plus now!


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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