Katerina Gould of Women Returners outlines the latest developments in returnships – internships for people going back to a professional career after a break.
At Women Returners, a consultancy and network specialising in the return to work of professional women after an extended break, we’ve been spending 2014 introducing the idea of returning professional internships (‘returnships’) to the UK. These targeted return to work programmes, pioneered in the US and India, provide a re-entry route for highly-qualified and skilled women who want to return to corporate life and find their way blocked by a gap on their CV. We have years of experience of supporting professional women to find a way back to work and so we know the difficulties that women encounter with even getting interviews when they’ve stepped away from their careers for a lengthy period.
As the name suggests, the closest current equivalent is an internship: the shared characteristics are that returnships are short-term, project-based work assignments which are paid. Crucially for returning professionals, the work is at a level which uses their previous training, experience and skills; they receive support to develop their technical knowledge and professional confidence; and there is a real possibility of a permanent role at the end of the assignment.
The benefits are not all one-way, however. The employing organisation gains a skilled resource who can take on meaty projects that would otherwise not get done and the chance to check out a potential new senior hire in a low-risk way. This is a very appealing recruitment route for organisations which are struggling to tackle the scarcity of women at their senior levels.
Returnships are at a very early stage in the UK. The first programme to run was with Credit Suisse in April-July 2014; they have already discussed the high calibre of the participant pool. Another investment bank, Morgan Stanley, will be running one in September (for which recruitment has now closed). But interest in returnships spreads far beyond investment banking. We have been having discussions with consultancies, professional service firms and companies in a variety of sectors including FMCG [fast moving consumer goods], recruitment, property, energy and other financial services areas. There has also been interest from industry bodies and from the STEM sector where organisations are increasingly aware of the loss of expertise and talent from their specialisms through the lack of return to work opportunities for those taking a long career break.
Excitingly, there’s also been interest from government bodies such as the Women’s Business Council, which has been reporting on ways to support women in their careers throughout their working lives. In addition, we’ve been endorsed for our advocacy initiatives by the 30% Club and Opportunity Now. They all see the economic and social benefits of enabling experienced women who want to return to work in corporate roles to do so.
We are very encouraged by the enormous interest there has been from employers in our returnship programmes. We hope that over the next year we will be able to announce new programmes in the UK in a broad range of sectors and roles.
*Katerina Gould is co-founder of Women Returners. For more information on returnships and the Women Returners Professional Network, see womenreturners.com. Picture credit: womenreturners.com.