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Return of the Stay-at-Home Parents

Employers are embracing parents who took a stay-at-home detour.

For decades, leaving a job to raise kids meant kissing your career goodbye. Now, employers are embracing employees who took a parenting detour. Goldman Sachs launched a "returnship" program last September--the first of its kind--that lets women return to explore a new field for eight weeks with pay but without guarantee of employment. Eleven professionals took part in the initial launch, and job offers were extended to five of them. Sara Lee also offers part-time paid internships through its own program for parents and others who have taken time off, such as military personnel. Honeywell and UBS have developed their own programs for returning parents, too.

There's been explosive growth in career reentry programs, says Carol Fishman Cohen, co-author of Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work and co-founder of iRelaunch, a career reentry strategy firm that compiles a list of reentry programs worldwide. Of the 57 programs iRelaunch has identified, "only nine of those programs--16 percent--existed before 2004," says Cohen, who credits media and research attention for driving the trend.

Evolving employers also view these workers as a valuable pool of talent--one that plans to return eventually: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 70 percent and 93 percent of the United States' 2.3 million stay-at-home moms age 25 to 54 with kids under 18 and a bachelor's degree or higher want to reenter the work force. And for small employers in a bad economy, Cohen says, initially hiring returnees as contractors or consultants offers "a low-risk way for both the employer and the new employee to test the water."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the April 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Return of the Stay-at-Home Parents.

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