How Paypal Is Changing The Ratio And Culture For Women


One of the most controversial issues for women in the workplace is whether and how becoming a mother (or caretaker for other family members) impacts one's job and career priorities. The truth, of course, is that there are women of every stripe, with highly individual priorities, in the workforce. And making generalizations about what is best for these women as an employer is absurd at best, and discriminatory at worst.


There are women who never want to have children, women who want to become CEO, women who don’t want to work outside the home after maternity leave, and women for whom children will in no way alter their career aspirations or job dedication. Sometimes a woman can occupy more than one of these descriptions at different points in her career — or even at the same time.


Employers who prioritize gender diversity among their ranks realize there’s no one-size-fits-all solution if they want to move the needle on the number of women within their ranks. They are willing to experiment to find solutions to their inclusion and human resources goals, just as the best companies are willing to take risks on different solutions to business problems.


One company, Paypal, is doing just that. I recently learned of Paypal’s returnship program (called Recharge) conducted in partnership with PathForward, a nonprofit organization with the mission to get people back to work after they've taken time off to focus on caring for others. MJ Austin, the Executive Sponsor of Recharge and Senior Director, Product Manager, explained to me that in their inaugural year, the 2016 program was successful in placing seven of the nine female engineers who had graduated their internship program into full-time roles after the program’s completion. This fall, Recharge at Paypal will expand the program to accept 30 new “returnee” internships for 18 paid weeks.


As Austin describes it:


We wanted to address the drop-off of women in the workforce at the midpoint level and head it off. We started by holding focus groups about women leaving; if it was to start a family, we don’t want to change that, but we found there were too many barriers to reentry once they decided to pick their careers back up. With programs like Recharge, we are trying to build a system to address these blocks to reentry and help get these women to come back.


The goal, in other words, is to transition as many of these returnees as possible to full-time roles at the end of the 2017 program (which ends in February 2018). In addition to this ROI metric, Austin adds that”while success is measured through our hire and retention rates, we are also hoping to drive cultural change from our participants and hiring managers, which we hope will permeate through the company so it becomes a norm to hire someone who’s been on a break.”


How likely is this kind of returnship program to spread? According to Austin, it’s more than a likelihood — it’s a necessity. “The need is huge in this market segment, and it’s been ignored for too long,” she said. “A program like this has the capability to changes lives and the ability to alter the playing field for some very deserving candidates.”


Paypal’s experience is one worth paying attention to, not only for candidates eager to reenter the workforce, but also for employers interested in upping their numbers of mid-career women and improving their culture at a grass-roots level. According to Austin, “It’s a great story to have an engineering manager tell another engineering manager versus it being a directive from leadership. Our managers are really interested in doing the right thing and the growth and interest in the program is apparent.”


In sum, returnship programs can be a useful tool for employers who don’t want to miss out on top talent. As Austin put it, “Great talent can sometimes come from unexpected places, and implementing a returnship program can help organizations tap into a new source of diverse, skilled, and highly-motivated professionals.”