You’ve lost your head of sales or marketing. You have a strategic project which somehow never gets off the ground. Your budget to hire someone with expertise is limited. What do you do? Go for ‘returners’.
These are highly skilled female executives who have dropped out of the workforce to have children. According to the Women Returners website (Womenreturners.com) around 40 per cent of the top women in business leave the workforce to have children.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs in the US, and Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley in the UK, are trialling the idea of ‘returnships’, which aim to use the skills of women who – regardless of the time they have been out of their full-time jobs – still have the expertise to manage a department, to trim a budget, or devise corporate strategy.
Just because they have taken a few years out does not mean they have lost the top-level skills for which they were highly rewarded in the past. They simply have an uncomfortable hole in their CV. Unlike others returning from an extended career break, these women are not prepared to return to a junior or dead-end role.
The idea behind returnships is that these talented women are taken on for a limited time and usually for a defined project. Their results can be judged and paid for, and the employer is not committed to providing a full-time job if the placement doesn’t work out.
As Julianne Miles, co-founder of Women Returners, says: “If they were leaders, lawyers or MBAs, that is still there. Let’s get past the fact that things are different in the workplace – these are bright people who will not take long to get up to speed.”
Specialist flexible working website Ten2two.org promotes the idea that companies would do better to have a senior executive who wants to commit to only a limited time each day than have someone who is going to be inexperienced. This is not to say that businesses shouldn’t hire younger talent, just that SMEs might benefit from the input of someone who, a few years previously, held a senior position with a large corporation such as Google, Centrica or General Motors.
Most of the contracts offered by Goldman Sachs’s Returnship Programme are for six months. After this, even the women who are not offered a full-time role, or decide to move to a different firm, have found little problem securing employment.
Miles believes the structure would particularly benefit smaller firms, giving them access to large corporate expertise without the commitment of hiring full time. A zero-hours contract for top-flight women is surely worth consideration.
British business is already setting the global pace for promoting executive women and by adopting returnship programmes has the opportunity to cement this position.