Remember when you were all fresh-faced and got your first professional job? Perhaps you were one of the lucky ones who got an internship. These are paid (or sometimes unpaid) short-term positions, with on-the-job training and mentoring, usually offered by large corporations. Often there is the prospect of permanent employment at the end of the contract.

For women who’ve been out of the workforce for a while, this kind of support can really ease them back in. While employers can benefit from the wealth of experience and skills they can offer.

And big business is starting to get on board.

Following the lead of UK and US companies, return-to-work internships are starting to become a strategy used by Australian employers. Although not commonplace yet, there are quite a few organisations out there who are attracting older, experienced women with this kind of employment structure.

Organisations benefit as they can tap into a broader talent pool, giving them greater likelihood of finding quality employees with the right fit. By hiring experienced people on short-term contracts, the company gets to see the employee ‘in action’ and can assess their suitability for a more permanent position. It also makes sense that a well-supported employee is more likely to perform if a permanent role is offered at the end of the internship. This would have positive flow-on effects for employers in terms of staff retention.

By offering this kind of employment, business can positively impact upon women’s participation in the workforce. Which is a win-win for our economy. In fact, a 2012 study by the Grattan Institute showed that increasing women’s participation in the workforce by just 6 per cent would lead to an extra $25 billion being added to Australia’s GDP.

Return-to-work internships can be very attractive for return-to-work mums, too. This kind of program offers a smooth transition from a career break back into the workforce. There is no doubt that time away from the workforce has an impact on women’s (or any person’s) confidence. An internship program aims to support women as they navigate their way back into their profession. Even if no permanent position materialises at the completion of the internship, the benefits include recent experience the resume, a chance to brush up on professional skills, and a way to re-build professional networks.

Currently, there are a few programs running in Australia, mainly with big corporates. But change is in the air. With many companies trying to increase their female employee numbers, particularly in professional and senior management roles, I hope we will see return-to-work programs like this becoming more and more mainstream.

We know women face a lot of hurdles when re-entering the workforce after a significant parenting break. With so many mums finding it hard to break down these barriers, this is one trend I’ll be watching.


Donna Thistlethwaite is a professional career coach helping return-to-work mums develop the practical skills and motivation they need to pursue a career they love. You can sign up to the CareerSmart Mums monthly newsletter for information, resources and inspiration at