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Returnships could help women recover from the career setbacks of COVID-19

June 4, 2021, 12:45 PM UTC

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Rent the Runway prepares to IPO, sexist comments motivated Michelle Wie West’s return to golf, and Amazon goes big on ‘returnships.’ Have a relaxing weekend.

Today’s guest essay comes to us courtesy of Fortune senior writer Maria Aspan:

– 1,000 Amazon (hiring) returns. A few months ago, I asked why more companies aren’t trying to bring women back to work during this ongoing economic crisis. Now Amazon is taking up the challenge—to an unprecedented, and hopefully groundbreaking, extent.

The pandemic and its extraordinary caregiving burdens have forced nearly 2 million women to drop out of the U.S. labor force, as we’ve covered extensively—offering a seemingly perfect opportunity for big companies to dust off the “returnship” programs they use to recruit, train, and hire stay-at-home parents and other professionals who have taken a break from the paid workforce. These programs have been around for more than a decade, and are offered by some of the largest Fortune 500 companies, including Walmart, Facebook, Apple, and Goldman Sachs. But as of February, when I last reported on the state of returnships, there were only a few thousand offered every year. They “face a huge supply and demand problem—and did long before the pandemic,” I wrote then. “To put it bluntly, employers just aren’t offering enough of them.”

Enter Amazon, which on Thursday told me exclusively that it is massively expanding its existing returnship program and will use it to hire up to 1,000 women in the next several years. That hiring commitment is small compared to Amazon’s overall workforce of 1.3 million, but exponentially larger than the roughly 30 hires it has made through returnships since 2019.

Amazon’s returnships are also open to men, but the company acknowledges that women—especially stay-at-home moms with previous corporate experience—make up 93% of its current participants. “Women are the primary caretakers in our society, and this program will be predominantly for them,” Alex Mooney, senior diversity talent acquisition program manager at the company, tells me.

Most significantly, Amazon’s pledge is the largest ever public commitment by a single employer to hiring through returnships. Now experts are hoping this will encourage other Fortune 500 companies to adopt or expand their own programs. Amazon is “setting a bar for big companies to do more,” says Tami Forman, executive director of nonprofit Path Forward, which works with Amazon and about 90 other companies on their returnships.

For another bit of context on Amazon’s 1,000-job commitment: In Path Forward’s five years of existence, all of its partners have collectively offered returnships to only about 600 people. That’s a modest number—especially when you consider that these employers have consistently hired around 80% of all returnship grads. Clearly companies are happy with the talent the programs are producing.

“There should be hundreds and thousands of companies running these programs,” Forman says. “And, certainly for the largest companies in America, there’s no excuse left.”

Read the full story here.

Maria Aspan
maria.aspan@fortune.com
@mariaaspan

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Taking a swing. After suffering injury and having her daughter, golfer Michelle Wie West was ready to focus on motherhood and other new opportunities rather than her sport. But Rudy Giuliani's recent inappropriate comments about her—describing looking up her skirt as she played several years ago—crystallized her desire to get back to the course and use the platform the game provides to speak up. New York Times

- In the race. As the Arizona GOP pushes to move forward with a 2020 election recount, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs—who oversaw that election—is launching her bid for governor. The Democrat is pitching herself as a candidate who can "get the job done." Arizona Republic

- Rental economy. Rent the Runway, led by CEO Jennifer Hyman, is reportedly getting ready for an IPO. The clothing rental service, which recently entered the resale market and added Gwyneth Paltrow to its board, is interviewing banks for a potential public offering. Bloomberg

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Signify Health named Susan Yun chief people officer. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Working rights. In a new op-ed, Walmart workers' movement leader Cynthia Murray argues that Walmart, while earning record profits during the pandemic, failed to protect employees with measures like paid sick leave. Workers have called for the creation of a pandemic task force. Fortune

- Beyond the draft. South Korea has a military draft requiring 18 months of service from the country's men. But with the country's birthrate slowing, the military is shrinking. To address that, a politician is proposing abolishing the all-male draft and instead requiring all young men and women to undergo basic training. Wall Street Journal

- Changing the conversation. When Naomi Osaka spoke out about her mental health, her words and actions resonated with tennis competitor Sloane Stephens. Stephens lost multiple family members to COVID-19, and she missed her grandparents' funerals while she was in a tournament bubble in Australia. "It’s something that I’ll probably regret for the rest of my life," she says now. New York Times

ON MY RADAR

Queen Elizabeth to meet President Biden at Windsor Castle CNN

Inside America's murky private adoption industry Time

Queer 50: LGBTQ women and nonbinary innovators in business and tech Fast Company

Olivia Rodrigo is blazing a new trail for Disney stars BuzzFeed

PARTING WORDS

"I turned 40 and thought, 'This isn't cute anymore.'"

-NPR's Audie Cornish on how she got over her imposter syndrome

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