Originally published in Forbes, and written by: Addie Swartz, CEO of reacHIRE.
Back to school is historically a time when scores of women step back into the workforce. Much like New Year’s, September is a milestone month and a logical time to hit the reset button. Kids are in the classroom, schedules are set and there is a clear runway for re-entry takeoff.
Yet, despite having more women than ever who could return to the workforce (as many as 2.5 million women in 2021), life this fall is anything but predictable.
For companies, how do you recruit women back to fill critical roles that advance business objectives during this time of uncertainty? What kind of flexibility and support should you offer and which outdated processes should you jettison to create a better and stronger workforce in the new world of work? There is no shortage of news, discussion and advice about this topic, yet execution remains a moving target.
For women who left the workforce, how do you decide how, when and where to return? As the power shifts to the employee, what should women expect and ask from employers and how do they advocate for what they need in order to come back and succeed?
The answers to these questions can only come when companies and women work together symbiotically to create a type of workforce that works for everyone. In order to do this, both sides need to understand the pressures, struggles, objectives and goals each other faces. From my perspective of working with both groups, here is where I believe we can meet in the middle.
Corporate Success Is In The Now And Later
For several of our partners, returners are a dedicated hiring pipeline and constant source of new talent that has remained vibrant and robust during the Covid-19 pandemic. But successful return-to-work programs aren’t just about getting professionals in the door, despite the fact that companies celebrate that exciting moment when a “returner” in a “returnship” converts to a permanent employee. The real barometer for success comes one, two, even three years later when that employee is still with you and flourishing. That’s the win-win state for companies and women. So how do we make sure that happens?
• Step One: Measure retention indicators with “The Flourish Factor”: According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), calculating retention rates involves “dividing the number of employees with one year or more of service by the number of staff in those positions one year ago.” There is little humanity in that equation.
WorkHuman CEO Eric Mosley recently wrote that most leaders have a “significant blind spot” when it comes to the human side of business. This deficit, he argues, is leading to the “great resignation” we are seeing today.
At reacHIRE, we encourage our partners to create environments where women can flourish. We call it “The Flourish Factor” — a set way to evaluate whether all women are flourishing in their roles, not just getting hired and staying in them. The Flourish Factor, which examines indicators for retention, productivity and engagement, such as sense of belonging, psychological safety and career opportunity, provides a way for companies to understand how well their culture and supports are working for their female employees.
The same supports many companies offer to engage women in their organization (flexible schedules, child care benefits, career development programs) are also important to attract and retain returners who are rebuilding skills, renewing confidence and reigniting their career trajectories — all while still juggling the uncertainty of the pandemic.
• Step Two: Provide community, connection and skills to ensure returner success: We will not solve today’s hiring challenges with yesterday’s solutions. Too much has changed, and much of it will be for the better once we move from acceptance into execution. For example, we’re finally recognizing the long-standing need to treat childcare as a business issue, not a personal problem and create tangible ways to financially and structurally support working parents.
At one of our partner companies, returning cohorts participate in a weeklong boot camp program that provides a high-touch introduction to the company, refresher courses in technical areas, and an ambassador program where each returner is connected to an employee who plays a key role in helping them successfully adapt to the organization, to the work and to being on the team. Ambassadors are enthusiastic cheerleaders for the returners, answer practical questions, teach the returner about company- and team-specific culture and act as a sounding board on work and career development.
There, returners also have access to specialized return-to-work learning and development training curricula through an online platform they can access virtually throughout their returnship across a wide variety of topics and are connected through a Slack channel for both work and non-work topics so they can lean on each other for questions and advice.
• Step Three: Embrace flexibility and hybrid environments that are perfect for women and especially returners: Today, employees are working in shifting sands already battered by crushing tides. Life and work can change from one moment to the next. Companies with the most successful return-to-work programs during the pandemic are those providing flexibility and understanding around childcare challenges and working hours.
Many of our partners are leaving it up to their employees to decide how they best work — whether it’s in office, at home or hybrid — and trusting employees to complete their work. They are aligned with the mindset that as long as you get the work done, it’s okay whenever you do it.
While “back to school, back to work” may not be the same this fall, it does afford us the opportunity to develop a new lesson plan that helps companies fill critical roles and bring more women back to work so we can all grow and flourish together.
In part two of this series, we will focus on answering the questions posed to women who are returning to the workforce.