A Returnship is an internship-like program for experienced workers who are seeking to reenter the workforce after an extended period away for caregiving.
I began championing Seeq’s Returnship Program in 2019 after first hearing of the concept in a networking group of women engineers. My initial interest in the program stemmed from my personal enthusiasm for supporting both women in technology and working parents, and at the time, Seeq was not receiving many software developer applications from female applicants. Offering Returnships appeared to be an effective way to find experienced women applicants.
Partnering with the non-profit Path Forward, we launched Seeq’s Returnship Program, providing a direct course for Path Forward’s audience of candidates looking to return to the workforce. Beyond connecting companies like Seeq to this audience, Path Forward also offers training, mentoring, and support for both Returners and their employers throughout the Returnship. For example, Path Forward recommends a cohort of Returners start at the same time to help build a network of support.
Path Forward also raises awareness about the difficult transition back to the workforce, including the challenge Returners face resetting availability expectations with their families in addition to getting back up to speed professionally. This knowledge and expertise from Path Forward were key in implementing a successful program at Seeq.
Reflecting on the first two years of the Returnship Program, Seeq has identified four organizational benefits the program is providing.
1. Supporting Work/Family Balance
Companies often talk about supporting work/family balance but take little action. Valuing the caregivers in our society by offering Returnships is one way companies can act on their words. The Returnship Program provides all job applicants insight into Seeq’s supportive culture, which is difficult to observe from the outside looking in.
2. Increasing Diversity
Caregivers with career gaps are most frequently mothers, so Returnships can play a significant role in increasing the number of women on staff, particularly in technical roles. In fact, one of Seeq’s software engineering teams is now over 80% female—seven out of eight team members—because of the Returnship Program, which brought in four of its members.
The Returnship Program also increased geographic diversity, made possible by nature of operating as a fully-remote company, but not an expected benefit of Returnships. Our first Returnship cohort included four members of different cultural backgrounds from around the world, living in three distinct geographic regions. And our most recent cohort of Returners brought additional cultural backgrounds on top of those represented in the first. In addition to the different perspectives and backgrounds these Returners bring to Seeq, they also contribute to the growth and expertise of our company by increasing language fluency and regional understanding, which helps us better support our global suite of customers.
Our first Returnship cohort included a stay-at-home dad, providing a unique perspective that was previously unrepresented in our company. This has helped bridge empathy barriers surrounding gender roles and traditional models of responsibility.
And our most recent cohort included a military spouse, a lifestyle which necessitates frequent moves that can force career gaps for reasons outside of caregiving. Seeq's Returnship Program, in combination with our fully-remote workplace, is a natural fit for military spouses.
While Returners at Seeq primarily have career gaps due to parenting, we also look for Returners who took career breaks to care for aging relatives or a spouse's medical condition, for example.
As we continue to increase the diversity of our workforce, we will add voices that influence our culture and products.
3. Reducing Hiring Risk
As a startup, we initially leaned heavily on recruiting senior personnel to form the team’s foundation, and on attracting junior-level employees through our internship program. Internships are a low-risk way for entry level employees to "try out a company" and vice versa, and, if it works well from both viewpoints, can result in a full-time position.
Returnships offer a similar benefit geared toward senior-level employees, providing just as much or more value from the employer’s standpoint. Hiring senior personnel immediately into a full-time position always carries a risk that, over time, things may not work out. Returnships reduce the risk of mismatch for both parties.
4. Finding Technical Talent
Technical talent is in high demand and has been particularly difficult to find throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. We have found that Returnships consistently lead us to high-performing and technically savvy individuals who are effective on their teams. For example, when we posted the first Returnship position for software testing, we set out with the expectation of finding decent engineering candidates but with some skill gaps we could fill with training. We were subsequently blown away by the large pool of candidates with impressive testing backgrounds—many with prior experience at Fortune-500 organizations. In fact, the hiring manager found the candidate pool to be of higher quality than that found among similar traditional job postings.
On every Seeq team, our Returners have been just as successful as our traditional hires, contributing net value to the organization within a short period of time. The Returnship pool is currently overlooked… at least until the tech world wises up. Engaging in this method of recruiting and hiring has been a game changer at Seeq, and now the secret is out!
Are you interested in pursuing a Returnship with Seeq? Visit the Careers Page to see when opportunities become available.