Women left the workforce in droves as the demands of motherhood and full-time work collided. By February 2021, nearly 3 million women had left the workforce due to the toll of the pandemic, pay inequities, and parenting roles that often fall to women. Return to work programs are more important than ever to support women who choose to return. 

Return to work programs offer those who have been out of work for an extended period of time an opportunity to re-engage in the workplace. While programs existed pre-pandemic, more organizations are considering ways to welcome displaced workers back. Recent projections estimate that employment for women may not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, two years after their male counterparts, so these initiatives deserve immediate attention. Organizations must consider how to make return to work programs appealing to women.

Paid training 

Many returnship programs already in existence rely on training programs to equip returners for new roles. Participants might learn new technology, brush up their resume, or practice mock interviews in preparation for re-entry to the workplace. Companies like Goldman Sachs, Cloudflare, and IBM are among those who have offered return to work programs for years. WellsFargo recently paid their returnship participants $40 an hour to complete their return to work program. At the end of the eight-week program, offers made to program participants were full-time offers with salaries of $100,000 or above. 

Flexible opportunities

Traditional 9 to 5 jobs are no longer desired by many who have left the workforce. With caregiving roles still falling more commonly to women, this population needs the flexibility to work around the needs of their families. Bus Stop Mamas is one organization that offers this kind of opportunity by connecting talent to employers who welcome this flexible arrangement. Organizations are increasingly aware of this benefit, with flexible work listed as one of the most talked about human resources trends of 2021

Equitable pay

The gender wage gap has led to women leaving the workforce when their pay no longer offsets the cost of childcare and other expenses associated with working a full time job. On average, women make 82 cents to the dollar compared to men. For women of color, this gap is even larger. To compensate for the $10,000 in lost earnings this gap creates, return to work programs will need to offer competitive wages for women to consider a move back to the office. Paid returnship training, like the one offered by WellsFargo, is a step in the right direction.

Fresh perspective

Resume gaps can be concerning for any organization seeking to hire a job candidate. When gaps extend beyond two years, the chance of job seekers being hired decreases even further. The pandemic provided an opportunity for human resources professionals to view a leave of absence with a fresh perspective and empathy for those who voluntarily and involuntarily left the workplace. While many existing return to work programs focus on those who have a two year gap or more on their resume, the pandemic may change that as organizations consider removing the two year gap for participants.

Return to work programs can benefit both employees and employers as top talent is connected to open roles. The future of work will rely on these programs to bridge the gap created by the pandemic and the shifting priorities in the workplace.