By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
Now entering its fourth year, the Goldman Sachs Returnship® program is returning this fall. Originally specific to Goldman’s New York headquarters, the program has expanded to include Hong Kong, Singapore, Salt Lake City, and New Jersey – and the firm is looking toward a London program as well.
The Returnship® evolved out of research that employers were ignoring an experienced source of talent: women who had left the workforce for a few years, and were eager to get back in. Like an internship, the program lasts for a limited amount of time, and provides seasoned women with the opportunity to see if they are ready to on-ramp back into the workforce. Monica Marquez, Vice President, Office of Global Leadership & Diversity at Goldman Sachs, and director of the program, said, “The beauty about the Returnship® program is that it is a ten-week program. There is a start date. There is an end date.”
In those ten weeks, participants – or “returnees,” as Goldman calls them – work on real business challenges tailored to their skills and experience. Marquez explained, “What we really try to do is work with the hiring manager to identify really meaty projects that these individuals can come in and work on because the difference from a regular summer intern is that Returnship® individuals are very seasoned, very experienced individuals who just happen to have taken a career break and are looking to come back.”
As one returnee remarked, “The ability to play an integral role in a team in such a short period of time was a great validation of my skill-set.”
The Next Level
Women who participate in the program have differing levels of experience and the time they have taken out of their career varies as well – the 2010 class’s average time-out was about 6 years, but the program has hosted women with career breaks spanning decades. Participating divisions of the firm have included Operations, Technology, Finance, Compliance, Human Capital Management, Services, Investment Management, and Global Investment Research – and Goldman plans to add additional divisions in 2011.
In addition to day-to-day responsibilities, returnees participate in an intensive orientation at the beginning of the program, and attend courses on self-promotion, influence and presence; getting the most out of mentor relationships, and recent trends in the finance industry. The Returnship® also provides networking opportunities with senior leaders.
Tthe program has met with significant success. According to Goldman, historically, each Returnship® class has had a 50% conversion rate to full time roles for returnees. So far, about 50% of the 2010 class has made the transition to full time work, and the firm expects that percentage to rise in time. And while returnees are not guaranteed a job at Goldman when the program is completed, the firm has found roles for many of the women who have participated.
Marquez continued, “The great thing about it is that some individuals come into the firm, they do a great job on their project, and the hiring managers realize what talent they have found and they don’t want to let them go. So we have had some really strong success stories, really great success stories, in which we’ve been able to hire individuals.”
Making the Adjustment
One of the biggest benefits of the program is that it enables women to assess whether they are ready to on-ramp back to the workforce. After all, returning to work after an extended career break means a big adjustment, and in fact, Marquez said one of the most common questions returnees have is how to manage the adjustment at work and at home.
One alumna of the program explained, “Having the program as an eight or ten week internship really creates an opportunity to see: does this make sense for me at this time in my life? It’s a chance to both have the participant interview the company as well as the company interview the participant. Is the fit correct? And do we understand what our mutual goals and opportunities might be? So it’s a process of assessment and acclimation that’s so important.”
The firm also provides mentors for women participating in the program, providing guidance for navigating changes and challenges both at work and at home.
Another program alumna explained, “The adjustment coming back to the workforce is a very interesting process. It is not something that’s done overnight. Just as we have a rhythm to our lives at home, there is a rhythm to every role. The transition takes time and effort to really understand what it’s going to be like, how it’s going to work with childcare if that’s an issue, how it’s going to work with your family, what the role is, who are your internal mentors and sponsors so that you can hit the ground running and really take advantage of everything that the firm has to offer.”
Goldman Sachs is currently accepting applications through August 26 for the 2011 Returnship® class. Women interested in the program should visit the firm’s website to learn more.