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Apple Joins Growing Crop of Tech Firms Offering ‘Returnships’ to Moms Who Left the Workplace

November 28, 2017, 8:25 PM UTC

A nonprofit aimed at getting women back into the workforce is expanding its network to include some of the biggest names in tech.

Path Forward announced on Tuesday that 10 new companies will be joining its ‘returnship’ program next year, including Apple, Oracle, Intuit, and Udemy.

Path Forward works with companies to create ‘returnship’ positions for mid-career professionals—mainly women—who want to get back into the workplace after taking time off to care for a child, parent, or other loved one. The New York-based organization launched in March 2016 after being spun out from data provider Return Path, where it had started as an in-house initiative.

Domain registrar GoDaddy (GDDY, -0.61%), online education platform Coursera, and grocery delivery startup Instacart were among the six companies in Path Forward’s first official cohort, which offered 18-week paid internships starting in October 2016 to caregivers looking to return to the professional sphere. AppNexus, Medallia, Intacct, Volta, Quantcast, and Cloudera joined for Path Forward’s second cohort.

All told, 142 individuals have participated in a ‘returnship’ through Path Forward or are currently completing one. Of those who have graduated from the program, 85% had a job within six months of finishing. Some were hired by their ‘returnship’ sponsors; others got jobs elsewhere. The ‘returnships’ are open to men and women, but women have made up the vast majority of participants so far.

Companies in the Path Forward network pay the nonprofit an administrative fee in exchange for training on how to run their programs and for promotional services. The ‘returnship’ positions they hope to fill—from engineering roles to marketing to sales—will be posted on Path Forward’s website, but the companies collect applications, vet candidates, and pay interns on their own.

In January, Path Forward executive director Tami Forman told Fortune that one hiccup in past cohorts was company’s lofty expectations for the kinds of skills—especially in engineering—they will find in workers who have been out of the workforce for a few years. She said participating firms have to get used to “what candidates look like when they’re coming off of significant time away.”

On Tuesday, Forman told Fortune that she expects Apple, for instance, to enter the program with an “open-minded” approach; likely listing a “bunch” of ‘returnship’ roles and understanding that it may not fill them all.

In addition to Apple, Oracle, Intuit, and Udemy, Path Forward’s 2018 program will include Carta, Campbell Soup Company, DataStax, iconectiv, Sterling Talent Solutions, and TeleTech. Those 10 companies are new to the program; another six—Cloudera, Cloudflare, Medallia, Return Path, Verisk, and Volta—are returning. All together, Forman is expecting the companies to post about 100 job listings in three markets—California, Colorado, and New York—and anticipates 80% will be filled.

In helping companies set up ‘returnship’ programs, Path Forward helps answer an acute need—from a company standpoint and from the individual participants’ points of view. Firms that have worked with Path Forward in the past say advertising ‘returnships’ broadens their talent pool by reaching candidates they may miss with traditional recruiting practices. And because the program targets caregivers—most of whom are women—it gives companies a direct line the female applicants in an era when many corporations, especially those in tech, are prioritizing gender diversity.

At the same time, Path Forward provides a vital resource for individuals who are looking to return to the workforce after a caregiving hiatus. The returnship model eases them back into a professional setting, gives them a fresh line on their resumes, and provides them with an intimate introduction to a potential, full-time employer.

Lack of opportunity—rather than lack of ambition—is sometimes at play among women who’ve exited the workforce and want to come back. Research from the Center for Talent Innovation found that nearly nine out of 10 highly qualified women who left their jobs voluntarily for an average of 2.7 years wanted to return, but only 40% were able to find full-time, mainstream work.