You’ve taken time away from work to be a caregiver. Now, you’re ready to get back into the workforce and restart your career. What approach should you take?
My guest for this episode is Tami Forman, the executive director of Path Forward. Path Forward is a nonprofit that creates internships to ease the transition back to work for people who have been caregivers. These programs for caregivers are called “returnships.”
Returnships are similar to internships in that companies offer these programs in a cohort model for a limited period of time. What sets apart returnships is that they are designed for people who’ve spent time caregiving.
“The best way to think about it is, if a college internship is for someone starting their career, a returnship is for someone returning to their career,” Tami says. Returnships have proven successful for workers and employers alike, with 80% of the graduates from Path Forward hired by the company they did their returnship with.
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Paving the Path Forward
Tami and her team not only help caregivers restart their careers, but the nonprofit also works with employers to change the culture around hiring caregivers. Path Forward understands that changing the culture starts by developing and changing companies.
“We go in, we start working with the HR and the recruiting folks, we have training modules for the hiring managers. But then … as they’re going through that recruiting process, we are meeting with their team on a regular basis to reinforce the training that we’ve done,” Tami says, “and to help them examine in real-time, as they’re reviewing resumes, as they’re doing interviews, as they’re going through this process, and helping them along the way so that our training really sticks with them.”
Still, some HR professionals or hiring managers might see a resume gap from a caregiver and skip over them. After all, managers are worried about getting in trouble because they made a bad hire. They avoid risk, and unfortunately, many organizations see caregivers as a risk.
“Part of it is working with the HR departments to de-risk. That’s why there are three-, four-month engagements, giving a permission structure from the executives, ‘Hey, we’re doing this, this is a good idea,’” Tami says. “We also have training around onboarding and giving feedback,” with many once-skeptical managers championing Path Forward after seeing the positive results.
Fighting Against Structural Issues
Many programs claim to help people balance their lives, but sometimes I think that it’s just a Band-Aid over what really needs to be done. Can the problem be fixed by burning down the current system, or would these problems simply reassert themselves?
“I do think there are some things within current company structures that could potentially be burned down,” Tami says. “The hours culture, the overwork culture, there’s a lot of just nonsense that — some of which, I think, is actually going away. I think some of that is starting to change.”
Existing systems of paid leave, child care, company benefits and access to remote work are unevenly distributed throughout the workforce.
“I also think because of the way the U.S. economy is structured in terms of how labor benefits are conferred, most things tend to go to the most privileged workers, the workers who companies want the most,” Tami shares. “So plenty of professionals have paid leave, for example, and other kinds of benefits and flexibility, and always have, but getting those spread more evenly within our society is something that’s difficult because of the way that is structured.”
Changing the System and HR’s Role
The term “caregiver” often evokes the image of a woman, but anyone can be a caregiver. However, Tami notes, women are 12 times more likely than men to be out of the workforce for caregiving duties. And job opportunities are often lacking when these women want to return to work.
While Path Forward and other organizations do help caregivers in their return to work, Tami argues that the bigger responsibility is on companies to develop programs and support systems that help these professionals, no matter how long they’ve been away. This is especially important for employers championing gender equity.
“If you’re not running some kind of program to bring people back into the workforce who have been out for two, five, 10 years, you are not going to gender balance your workforce, and particularly, you’re not going to gender balance your leadership,” Tami shares.
HR can ensure that these employer programs examine all the elements that encourage or discourage caregiving, flexibility and balance at work. “How are you looking at promotion patterns? Are people who take flexibility less likely to get promoted? Because, of course, it’s the women who take flexibility and the men who don’t,” Tami says. “Are you looking at what kinds of caregiving accommodations you give to men and whether or not men are taking those accommodations?”
Think holistically about the employee life cycle, Tami says. Rather than making everyone endure a relentless fight for promotions, how can employers create space for flexibility and career growth so talented workers can take a step back and still be able to advance when they’re ready?
Caregiving is one of those things that people overlook unless they are actively in the situation. But most of us will be caregivers at some point, so we all need to make this more of a priority. That said, Tami is hopeful that returnships will gain a foothold in more companies and start to change the conversation.
“As these programs proliferate, as they become more common, as companies run them two and three and four times,” Tami says, “we’re going to really start to see that get embedded within cultures, where companies expect to run them, and managers and employees expect to be part of them.”'The best way to think about it is, if a college internship is for someone starting their career, a returnship is for someone returning to their career.' ~ @TamiMForman, executive director, @PathFWD. Tune in to the latest episode of #PunkRockHR! Click To Tweet
People in This Episode
Tami Forman: LinkedIn, Twitter, Path Forward donation page, Path Forward Twitter, Path Forwar Instagram, Path Forward Facebook, Path Forward LinkedIn
This episode of Punk Rock HR is sponsored by The Starr Conspiracy. The Starr Conspiracy is the B2B marketing agency for innovative brands creating the future of workplace solutions. For more information, head on over to TheStarrConspiracy.com.
Hey everybody, I’m Laurie Ruettimann, welcome back to Punk Rock HR. My guest today is Tami Forman, she’s the executive director of Path Forward, a nonprofit organization that creates internships to ease the transition back to work for women and men after being caregivers. Tami is on the show today because she is an advocate for gender equality at work and at home, and really wants to make sure that we create a future of work that’s inclusive for people who have to step away and do the most important job of a lifetime — care for the people that they love.
Chances are you’ve had someone take care of you at some point in your life, or you may have been a caregiver to someone you love and treasure, and that’s why I wanted to bring Tami on to Punk Rock HR today to have this conversation about how we create a really great place for people to return to work. So if you’re interested in any of this at all, sit back and enjoy this conversation with Tami Forman on this week’s Punk Rock HR.
Hey Tami, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you, Laurie, I’m so excited to be here.
Well I am, as well. Before we get started talking about caregiving and women in the workforce, why don’t you tell everybody who you are and what you’re all about?
Yeah, hi, I’m Tami Forman, I am the executive director of Path Forward. So we’re a nonprofit organization, and we work with employers to help caregivers who’ve left the workforce restart their careers. And I have the best job in the whole world.
Well, it’s nice that you say that, that’s pretty amazing. I feel like I have the best job in the world as a podcaster, so we can argue about that offline. I feel like the word “caregiver” is so loaded with biases, because a lot of people think of mothers, they think of women, but caregiving in 2022 can mean a lot of things. What does it mean to you?
It can mean a lot of things, and it is coded, and it is gendered, which is part of why we exist, because women are 12 times more likely than men to be out of the workforce to accommodate caregiving. So it’s absolutely a gendered part of the conversation, but the reason we use the word “caregiver” — because we do serve men, women, people of all gender identities. And people who have left the workforce for childcare, certainly that’s the vast majority, but there are people who’ve left the workforce for elder care, maybe they were sick, maybe they had to move across the country for a family’s work opportunity, maybe they’re a military spouse and they’ve had multiple deployments, lots of reasons that have to do with — but all of those things come back to this idea of focusing on family and making a work sacrifice, as many do, for the sake of the home and the people who you love.
Well, tell me a little bit about the work that you do, because I think there are a lot of agencies and organizations out there that say they help the caregiver, and yet every study out there shows that caregivers are drowning, emotionally and physically. So what is it that you do?
Yeah, so we do work with caregivers, but we also work with the employers. So we believe that change has to happen, the culture of change that has to happen, has to happen within companies. They need to open up opportunities for people who have left the workforce for caregiving. I mean, no one ever says they don’t.
Who’s like, “No, we hate caregivers, and one and done.”
Right, but you’ve got a manager who’s making hiring decisions and looking at resumes, and they’ve got a resume on their desk that has a two-year gap, or a five-year gap, or a 10-year gap, someone hasn’t worked in 10 years. And they’re like, well, no way, no way I’m going to hire that person. Recruiters aren’t even going to send him that resume because they know he’s not going to consider that candidate. So we work with the HR folks, the recruiting folks and the hiring managers themselves to get them to examine that bias, think about all of the great skills and experiences that people get out of the workforce that they can bring back into their career, and all of the talent that they’re missing out on by overlooking those resumes over and over and over again.
So when your organization is called in for an engagement, what particularly do you do? I mean, is it education? Is it role playing? Do you just berate the hell out of people for not doing a great job at hiring caregivers? Because sign me up for that job, I’ll do that.
We don’t berate, we have found that the berating is not the most effective tool that we have. But it’s interesting, it’s lots of training. We go in, we start working with the HR and the recruiting folks, we have training modules for the hiring managers. But then as they are recruiting — and these are usually cohort-based programs. So you have a group of caregivers coming in on a three- to four-month engagement with this company. And so as they’re going through that recruiting process we are meeting with their team on a regular basis to reinforce the training that we’ve done. And to help them examine in real time, as they’re reviewing resumes, as they’re doing interviews, as they’re going through this process, and helping them along the way, so that our training really sticks with them. It’s not just, “OK, you’re going to see a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation, and then let us know how it goes.”
So when the managers come back, for example, and say, “Oh, no one was any good,” we’re like, “Maybe. How about we look at a couple of those resumes with you?” How about we help you examine some of the things? How about we talk about, oh, so you had five guys interviewing the candidates, yeah, maybe that wasn’t the way to do that. So let’s talk about creating a space for somebody to be able to tell their story, things like that. So we’re doing that ongoing through the recruiting process so that they’re really internalizing and changing their culture.
Well, it certainly makes sense, but I do wonder about that individual, that hiring manager, that person in a position of power who is like, “Yeah, I looked at these resumes, and three of the candidates haven’t worked in the past decade. Two of the candidates certainly don’t even know what Slack is.” There’s these little things that tend to come up. And so, if and when I hire these individuals, I’m going to have to invest a ton just to get them up to speed, and chances are they’re going to stay for two to three years, if we’re lucky, and then bounce. So how do you overcome that kind of cynicism or skepticism, which has got to be common in every engagement you go to?
Yeah, I mean, there is some of that. It’s interesting, I mean, I do think there are a lot of people, going back to your question about berating. There are a lot of managers who want to, they do see — they have caregivers in their life too, and they do want to be part of these programs — they’re afraid. The thing that gets a manager in trouble at work more than any other thing is a bad hire. If you’re going to get in trouble at work, bad trouble, you hired — they’re very risk averse when it comes to hiring, very emotional decision making, which of course ramps up bias, when we’re in this emotional space of feeling like, “Oh, I don’t know, I’m taking a risk, that doesn’t feel great.”
So part of it is working with the HR departments to de-risk. That’s why there are three-, four-month engagements, giving a permission structure from the executives, “Hey, we’re doing this, this is a good idea.” We also have training around onboarding and giving feedback, and all of those things. And what’s so interesting is that even the most skeptical managers are some of the biggest champions, because the people they find — we have an 80% conversion rate. 80% of the people who go through one of our programs get converted, and that’s because they’re amazing. Because one thing that companies will not do is give a full-time regular job to someone they don’t think can do a job. They may do temporary programs, they may do this, they may give money to different organizations, they’ll do lots of things, they will not hire a fully loaded, benefited employee who they do not think can be successful. It’s just not something companies are going to do.
So they hire them because they’re amazing, and then what happens is that when we go back to that company later, oftentimes it will be twice as many managers who want to sign up for the second round as the first round. Because they then hear from their other manager buddies how amazing the program is. So we’re able to overcome a lot of that stuff, partly through the program design, and partly through “just trust us when we tell you this is going to be amazing and you’re going to find people you never would’ve found if you hadn’t done this.”
Well I think about the whole spectrum of caregivers, and we talked about how it can be gendered, how it can be biased, we assume it’s women. And yet, to your earlier point, caregiving does fall on the shoulders of many women. And so I just want to take a step back and talk about women in the workplace, and I know you have a POV on some of the struggles that women face. First and foremost, it’s hard to make good decisions about people who are caregivers if we don’t have caregivers in leadership roles. So can you talk to me a little bit about this tension that you may face with clients and we, in general, just witness as human resources leaders.
Right, yeah. Look, and companies have a role to play here, in general, of making their workplaces better for everyone and to accommodate the caregiving that happens throughout the course of our lives — both when we need caregiving and when we need to give care to others. So I think there’s a lot of stuff. One thing that I started saying to executives early on when I started this organization was just — taking the gap in service piece for a second, but I can extrapolate this out. So if you are not running programs some way, doesn’t have to be mine, but if you’re not running some kind of program to bring people back into the workforce who have been out for two, five, 10 years, whatever, you are not going to gender balance your workforce, and particularly, you’re not going to gender balance your leadership. The math doesn’t work. Too many women leave the workforce because of caregiving, so you’re just doing math at some point, you’re just doing math.
And I think that can be extrapolated to a lot of other things when it comes to flexibility, but then also how are you looking at promotion patterns? Are people who take flexibility less likely to get promoted? Because of course it’s the women who take flexibility and the men who don’t. Are you looking at what kinds of caregiving accommodations you give to men and whether or not men are taking those accommodations? Are you creating space for the women outside of your organization? This is where it gets real hard for a lot of executives, because I want my men working as much as they can, but that impacts their wives who might be at someone else’s company. But meanwhile, the women at your company are struggling because their husbands — we’re all connected.
We sure are, we sure are, and it’s so messy, and I just wonder if your program, and similar programs around the world, frankly, are what we need to move the world of work forward.
They’re one piece of it. So that’s the way I would say it, they’re one piece of it. I’ve always felt like there’s multiple levers that we all need to be pulling on. We need to make it easier for people who have caregiving to stay in the workforce in the first place if they want to. We work with a lot of people who would have stayed in their career if there had been some flexibility, if their partner had been more supportive. The long list of things that, had they had those supports they would’ve stayed, so are we making it easier for people who want to stay to stay?
Are we making it easier for people to, women particularly, to maybe not leave the workforce but take a step back in terms of responsibility, but then ramp back up again. The mommy track often became like, “OK, you can have some flexibility, but then we’ll never see you again.” Can we think more holistically about people’s careers across a life cycle, that it’s not just like, you have to be on an escalator or forget it. You’re either on an escalator or a treadmill. Well maybe there’s some other ways to think about, some different metaphors to think about how we could manage a career.
Right. I think about all of these programs out there and I wonder if they’re really forcing systemic change, or if they’re just Band-Aids. So I just want to leave that question there because that, I think, will give you a really good intro to your answer just there. But if we really want to force change in the world, I often come to this place myself where I’m like, do we just need to burn it all down? So I wonder, Tami, even if we burnt it all down, would we just rebuild the same system with biases against caregivers, or is there a real opportunity with burning it down to have this optimal state? And, frankly, what would that optimal state look like?
I do think there are some things within current company structures that could potentially be burned down. The hours culture, the overwork culture, there’s a lot of just nonsense that — some of which I think is actually going away, I think some of that is starting to change. I don’t think the story’s been written on what the future of work is going to look like right now. The whole back to office thing, there’s a big thing this weekend in The Wall Street Journal about,
“OK, get back to work,” employees are like, “Ehh.”
We’ve all just been sitting around drinking martinis for the past two-and-a-half years, yeah.
Maybe we’ll come back to the office, maybe. So there’s a tension there between what employees want, what employers want, why each side wants what they want, so I think that’s this ongoing thing. But the thing I think is important to remember is there’s the stuff outside of work that, if that doesn’t change, it’s going to make it really hard. So for example, child care, for example, leave. I run a small organization, it’s much easier for me from a staffing standpoint and a financing standpoint, to accommodate an employee going on leave in New York than it is someone in, I don’t know, Wisconsin or Ohio, because we have paid leave in New York. Everybody pays into the system, and employees get paid to be on leave, and I don’t have to finance that myself as a small-business owner.
So there’s things we could be doing at a social level around leave and child care — oh my God, zero to 2, nothing available; 2 to 5, eh, kind of sort of, depends. Five to 12, after-school, summer, summer — these are huge problems and really difficult, and disproportionately impact women over and over, lather, rinse, repeat.
So I think part of the problem in burning down a system of any kind is that when it gets rebuilt, some of the things that we didn’t care about before, we still don’t care about when we rebuild, and I often think of caregiving like that. Caregiving is one of those things where nobody’s really thinking about it on a day-to-day level unless they’re doing it, and that’s maybe a lack of empathy in our society. I don’t know, you tell me, why isn’t caregiving something we talk about all the time? Because chances are if you live a life, if you wake up in the morning and take a breath, you’re going to be a caregiver at some point no matter who you are. So why isn’t it something that’s top of mind?
Well, not only are most people going to be a caregiver, everybody had care at one point and probably will again in their life, so everyone needs care. It comes back to the gender problem, there’s also a racial aspect to this, we desperately, desperately want care to be free, we desperately want it to just be something that women, and disproportionately women of color, will do for little to no money. There is a level of that that sits under a lot of these things that I think is part of it. And coming back to the “do you burn it all down”? There are things in the current structure of the way companies have been constructed that go back to a time when that was more normal, or felt more normal, or seemed more normal, or whatever. And so it takes some undoing of those structures, too, which some companies are doing, some companies aren’t. We’ll see who’s coming out on the other side of some of these discussions.
I also think because of the way the U.S. economy is structured in terms of how labor benefits are conferred, most things tend to go to the most privileged workers, the workers who companies want the most. So plenty of professionals have paid leave, for example, and other kinds of benefits and flexibility, and always have, but getting those spread more evenly within our society is something that’s difficult because of the way that is structured. It makes it tricky, because companies will do things to keep people happy, they will do things to retain workers, they will do things to attract the best talent. You do see companies today talking about remote-only as a talent acquisition tool, but when you structure it that way, it doesn’t confer evenly across the economy to all workers.
Tami, your organization focuses on this concept called returnships. Can you tell us what that is?
Yeah, so returnships are, broadly speaking, programs that are designated, usually for people who’ve left the workforce for caregiving, which can be broadly defined, as we’ve talked about. But they’re temporary, generally — there’s a few that hire into regular jobs — but they’re generally three-, four-, five-month stints in a company. Generally the company runs it in a cohort model, so they’ll bring in five, 10, maybe 20 people at a time, so similar to a college internship. The best way to think about it is, if a college internship is for someone starting their career, a returnship is for someone returning to their career.
So the model is very similar, two, three, four months, cohort style, so a group of returners going through it at the same time, and then, unlike a college internship, much higher conversion rate. So the college interns go back to school, usually at the end of the summer, but in a returnship, oftentimes companies are looking to fill positions that they have, so about 80% of our graduates get hired by that company. And the ones who don’t go on and get great jobs at other companies because they’ve now refreshed and reinvigorated and have great new work stories to tell when they go into interviews, so it has been a positive across employers and returners many times.
I think there have got to be organizations or entities or components of companies out there that are doing a really good job with caregiving, or someone who at least can show us that there’s potential out there to do it right. So can you think of an example across your expertise of someone, anywhere, who’s like, yeah, I’m taking an insightful approach to the intersection of caregiving and work?
Yeah, so we started working with Amazon pre-pandemic, so we started working with them, I think, back in 2018-ish to help them on the first iterations of the returnship program. And I think it was right after the pandemic, or during, in the middle — well still in the middle of it — but during the pandemic they announced that they were going to be, over some period of time, which they haven’t defined, but that they’re hoping to fill 1,000 returnship slots, which is massive.
The other thing I would say is just, over and over we see with companies, that they run this program. And, inevitably, when they have a great outcome, which they mostly do, almost all of them do, they then have more and more managers that want to be part of it, because it spreads within a company. And I think we’re still in the early days of that, but my anticipation will be over the next couple of years, as these programs proliferate, as they become more common, as companies run them two and three and four times, we’re going to really start to see that get embedded within cultures, where companies expect to run them, and managers and employees expect to be part of them.
Tami, as we start to close the conversation, I just wonder if HR leaders, hiring managers out there, are curious about the world of caregivers, and they want to help them return back to work, where do they go? Where do they find out more information?
Yeah, so they can go to our website at pathforward.org, and they can always email us. We have an email that everyone, including me, gets access to, firstname.lastname@example.org, we’re very friendly. And feel free to email us, we’re happy to answer questions, we’ve got a lot of information on our website that you can use to learn more, we have success stories from companies we’ve worked with, from the many returners that we’ve worked with. You can really get a good sense. But feel free to drop us an email, we love to talk to people about the work that we do, we’re happy to answer your questions about how these programs work, what kinds of organizations they work for, what kinds of jobs they work for. We’re a nonprofit for a reason, we want every company in America to be doing these, so we’re happy to help you get it off the ground.
Well Tami, it was really fun to talk about the world of caregiving and how it intersects talent and recruiting and human resources, and how maybe we don’t need to burn it down, but we can certainly do things differently. Any final thoughts before we close it out?
No, Laurie, thank you so much for having me on, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about the work we do and the amazing, amazing caregivers that we work with, so thank you so much.
Hey everybody, I hope you enjoyed this episode of Punk Rock HR. We are proudly underwritten by The Starr Conspiracy. The Starr Conspiracy is the B2B marketing agency for innovative brands creating the future of workplace solutions. For more information head on over to thestarrconspiracy.com. Punk Rock HR is produced and edited by Rep Cap, with special help from Michael Thibodeaux and Devon McGrath. For more information, show notes, links and resources, head on over to punkrockhr.com. Now that’s all for today, and I hope you enjoyed it, we’ll see you next time on Punk Rock HR.