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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Women who took extended time off from work to raise a family often assume their careers have hit a dead end. But in a tight job market, many companies are rolling out the red carpet to bring back that kind of experienced talent.

Why it matters: Career reentry programs — sometimes called "returnships" — give employers an opportunity to repopulate the ranks with high-caliber mid- to senior-level women. And they provide women who've been out of the workforce a chance to get back on the career path.

The big picture: About 2.2 million non-working mothers between 25 and 54 years old with bachelor's degrees or higher say they want to work, according to career reentry consultant Carol Fishman Cohen, co-founder of iRelaunch.

By the numbers: At the same time, there's a large talent gap to fill, especially in technical fields like engineering and computer science.

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a shortage of more than 500,000 engineers between 2014 and 2024, for example.
  • Women represent just 14% of all engineers, according to the Society of Women Engineers, which launched the STEM Reentry Task Force with iRelaunch in 2015.
  • Between 54,000 and 216,000 women with engineering or computer science degrees are on career breaks at any time, according to SWE.

What's happening: More than 100 of the world's largest companies offer some type of return-to-work initiative.

  • The trend started in the financial services sector, first at Lehman Brothers and then at Goldman Sachs, which in 2008 coined — and trademarked — the term "returnship" for its 10-week program for women (and men) with career gaps looking to rejoin the workforce.
  • Since then, the concept has spread to other professions like law, IT, engineering and manufacturing.
  • General Motors, Ford, United Technologies and others have launched their own return-to-work programs.

How it works: A returnship for mid-career professionals is not much different from an entry-level internship.

  • Participants get training and mentoring support, and are paid the going rate for someone employed full-time in their position.
  • Open to men and women who have taken a career break of at least two years, the programs generally last from eight weeks to six months.
  • During that time, participants refresh their skills, while employers evaluate them for full-time jobs.
  • About 85% of participants have been hired into permanent jobs, says Cohen, whose firm helps companies develop return-to-work programs and also runs conferences on career reentry.
  • Cohen says her company has worked with 80,000 career relaunchers since 2007, including 400 who were hired more recently through the STEM Reentry Task Force.

General Motors' Take 2 program, launched in 2016, was one of the first STEM programs.

  • Originally focused on engineering jobs, GM later opened up the program for IT and finance professionals.
  • With 15 years' experience at an auto supplier, Kristen Siepker took a 10-year break to raise three kids. She joined GM in 2017 for a 12-week Take 2 internship. At the end, she was offered a full-time job, and within five months, she earned a promotion. She's now a finance manager in GM's fleet organization.

The bottom line: GM CEO Mary Barra broke barriers in 2014 as the only woman to lead a global automaker, but the industry as a whole remains a boys’ club, reports USA Today.

  • Encouraging women to resume their careers after a break is one way to boost that diversity and establish role models for future working mothers.

Go deeper

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Photo: Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Myanmar's military regime on Saturday fired the country's ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, a day after he gave a pro-democracy speech asking UN member nations to publicly condemn the Feb. 1 coup, The New York Times reports.

The latest: Kyaw Moe Tun told Reuters later on Saturday, "I decided to fight back as long as I can."

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  • Catch the full interview and much more on Sunday, February 28 at 6 pm. ET/PT on all HBO platforms.
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Italy tightens COVID restrictions as experts warn of growing prevalence of variants

Health workers prepare vaccine doses in Iseo, Italy. Photo: Stefano Nicoli/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Italy on Saturday announced it was tightening restrictions in five of the country's 20 regions in an effort curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Driving the news: The announcement comes as health experts and scientists warn of the more transmissible coronavirus variants, per Reuters.