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How Returnships Help Women Return to the Workforce How Returnships Help Women Return to the Workforce
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How Returnships Help Women Return to the Workforce

Insights & Ideas Team •  September 21, 2016 | Focus on Women, Business and Careers

As the head of legal talent for top law firms for two decades, Caren Ulrich Stacy regularly received resumés from women hoping to re-enter the workforce after taking a hiatus. Although the women were qualified for the jobs, the gaps in their resumés  created too much risk for employers.

“It was always an uphill battle,” said Ulrich Stacy. “I never once won the battle of even getting a woman with a resumé gap an interview.”

Now she helps women returning to the workforce get hired by law firms, corporate legal departments and financial institutions and hopes to expand to other industries as well.

About 30 percent of highly qualified women have taken time off from their careers to care for children or older family members, reports the Center for Talent Innovation. As women have left the workforce, their participation in the labor force has dropped to about 57 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Women with significant resumé gaps in any field face tough questions from hiring managers, Ulrich Stacy said: Why did they leave? Are they sure they want to come back? Are they ready to hit the ground running?

Those are fair questions, said Ulrich Stacy. But the interview processes used by many firms weren’t helpful in finding the answers. The problem, she said, is that many firms weren’t specifically screening for the skills, personalities and attitudes shared by their highest performers.

Recruiting With Data

In 2010, Ulrich Stacy left the law firm world to help start a data-based recruiting company called Lawyer Metrics, which she led until 2013. The company aimed to “moneyball” lawyers by using data to identify potential leaders in the same way that baseball executive Billy Beane did for players.

As clients began to realize how data could be helpful in recruiting, Ulrich Stacy realized that a data-based approach might also be a way to specifically help women with resumé gaps demonstrate their value so they could re-enter the workforce. “It was a bit of an ‘aha’ moment for me,” she said.

In 2014, Ulrich Stacy branched off from Lawyer Metrics (later sold to the Access group) to found Diversity Lab and launch its OnRamp Fellowship. The first “returnship” launched in the legal profession, the fellowship is a re-entry platform that matches qualified women in law and finance with law firms, corporate legal departments and banks for one-year paid positions. The one-year trials give women returning to the workforce an opportunity to demonstrate their skills, knowledge and value while also gaining current experience and contacts. In return, companies can access an untapped pool of high-performing female talent and increase gender diversity in mid- and senior-level positions while minimizing the risk of hiring candidates with resumé gaps.

So far, about 30 major law firms, corporate legal departments and banks participate in the fellowship, said Ulrich Stacy. “Other highly client-oriented service professions have the same problem—not enough women at the top,” she said.

Although Ulrich Stacy started her business for lawyers because of her expertise in that field, returnships can be helpful in any industry, she says. The Society for Women Engineers, for example, worked with a handful of companies to create “returnships” in 2015 and 2016.

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The OnRamp Fellowship assesses women candidates in three areas: skills, motivation and market value, said Ulrich Stacy. The evaluation includes psychometric assessments of both the candidates and the high performers in the organization seeking new talent.

“We go into the organization and we look at their culture, we look at their skills, and we look at their behaviors so we have a pretty clear understanding of who has been successful there,” she said. “Then we make a recommendation about who we think they should interview, and ultimately hire, based on the data.”

In the last two years, about 400 women have applied to the OnRamp Fellowship. About 45 women have been placed in fellowships, and 86 percent of that group received job offers. “It’s an incredibly selective program because we know that if we place women who don’t succeed, it will have a negative impact on the program as a whole,” she said.

Re-entry Tips

For women with resumé gaps looking to re-enter the workforce in any profession, Ulrich Stacy offers the following tips:

1. Be clear about what you want to do. If you’re not sure how to determine your path, talk to a career coach or someone in your industry who can run assessments and help you hone your career goals.

2. Update your social media profile to include your most current contact information and relevant experience. “Make sure that from an external perspective, people can find you,” she advised. “Your LinkedIn profile matters as much as a resumé.”

3. Do not apply for jobs through normal channels or upload resumes. “You have to find people who know people who can walk your resumé through the process,” she said. Use any available networking resources, including LinkedIn, to find connections, she advised.

Ultimately, the OnRamp Fellowship’s success is defined by the satisfaction of women who are placed in their second careers, said Ulrich Stacy: “I’m thrilled that people get jobs from this, but more importantly I’m thrilled if we increased their confidence; I’m thrilled if they negotiate for pay in a way that they haven’t previously done; and I’m thrilled if they’re happy to go to work every day.”

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