Claire Adam, Jimmy McDonough, and Michaela Hatch speak during a networking event.

From left, Claire Adam of ARUP Laboratories, Jimmy McDonough of the Talent Ready Utah Center, and Michaela Hatch of Recursion discuss how returnships can help ensure that women won’t abandon careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

November 2, 2023

Returnships, which provide an avenue for women to ease back into work after having taken time off, are one way to repair a “broken rung” on the career ladder that keeps promising employees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields from advancing into leadership positions, speakers said on November 1, 2023, at the BioHive Women in Technology and Science (WITS) chapter’s annual networking event in Salt Lake City.

Modeled after internships, returnships enable women who may be nervous about returning to work to freshen their skills and learn how best to navigate a workplace that has changed in their absence, even as they and their life circumstances have also changed.

“You might have taken a break, but you didn’t lose your skills. You didn’t lose the education that you’ve had,” Jimmy McDonough, director of Higher Education Initiatives for the Talent Ready Utah Center, said at the event, which was cohosted by ARUP Laboratories and held at the company. “Actually, you’ve gained a lot, and it’s really important that you communicate that you’re bringing even more to the table.”

McDonough joined Claire Adam, senior human resources business partner at ARUP, and Michaela Hatch, senior scientist at Recursion, in encouraging participants to urge their employers to offer returnships as a way to keep much-needed talent in STEM fields.

Hatch cited research done by the Utah Women & Leadership Project at Utah State University that found that 22% of women leave STEM careers for family reasons, and another 15% leave because they’re looking for better pay or promotions.

If companies in the life sciences want better representation by women, including in leadership, “Let’s make it so that STEM careers are amenable to all the various roles we have to play” in our families and our communities, Hatch said. “By creating these types of [returnship] programs, we can create a community where we’re all allowed to have a little bit more breathing room in our work-life balance to cycle through phases of our lives.”

Encouraging the creation of returnship programs is just one initiative of WITS, which was established in 2022 and now has 300 members, including many at ARUP. Tracy George, MD, ARUP chief scientific officer and Innovation Business Unit president, is a chapter leader.

The November 1 networking event also highlighted A Bolder Way Forward for Utah, a seven-year initiative that aims to help more Utah women and girls thrive. WITS is actively involved in the initiative’s focus on STEM fields, working to increase the number of women earning advanced degrees in STEM, being promoted in STEM positions, and advancing into executive roles, among other goals.

More information about A Bolder Way Forward is available here.


Lisa Carricaburu,