When Kate Sigafoos re-entered the legal industry after taking a five-year leave from full-time practice, her biggest challenge was self-doubt.For six years, she had enjoyed working as a criminal prosecutor in Kitsap County, Washington. But amid a three-hour commute to the office and a growing family, she reluctantly quit her job in 2012. It’s not a safety net, but it’s nice to know these things are out there.
When she returned to work full-time, it was not only her previous legal experiences that helped her overcome her uncertainty, but also a cohort of women who were similarly positioned at companies around the world and available to offer encouragement.
They were all participants in the OnRamp Fellowship, a yearlong paid program launched as Diversity Lab's first initiative in January 2014 for experienced lawyers who have left their full-time practices for at least two years and are ready to re-enter the legal profession in-house or at a law firm.
Sigafoos applied to a role at Microsoft Corp. that aligned with her background and, in November 2017, started working at the technology corporation as a human resources legal attorney.
"Entering into Microsoft under this fellowship really gave me an open door," she said. "It's not a safety net, but it's nice to know these things are out there. Maybe [other women] will make decisions that are better for their whole life holistically, rather than just for their career, knowing there are ways to get back."
Five years after the creation of the OnRamp Fellowship, the returnship program's success stories are adding up, offering a powerful model that differs from other diversity-related initiatives as it pushes companies and firms to adopt nontraditional hiring options and directly tap into underrepresented groups in law.
"I think by just exposing firms and company leadership to really promising female leaders who are moms hopefully has a trickle-down effect so even without programs like this, people are willing to consider someone with a nontraditional background," said Casey Gordon, a director in Major Lindsey & Africa LLC's Midwest in-house practice group who recently returned to work from maternity leave.