Q&A: Expedia CTO details return-to-work program for workers who come back

Expedia Group recently graduated its first group from a 16-week internship program aimed at reacquainting them to the technology workforce after having been away for two or more years. Anyone who took two or more years off to care for a family member is eligible.

Upskilling Staff

Spurred by the global pandemic, the Great Resignation saw an exodus of people from the workforce; over the past year, more than 4 million US employees each month have left jobs for a myriad of reasons.

Some employees said they were highly dissatisfied with work, but others cited more practical reasons. For example, women left the workforce more than men because of caregiving responsibilities, whether it was for children or elderly relatives, according to Amy Loomis, research director for IDC’s worldwide Future of Work market research service.

A recent study by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company showed that women leaders in the workplace are stretched thinner than men, with 43% of those surveyed saying they're burned out, compared to only 31% of men at their level.

Although women are slightly more likely this year than last to say that their employer offers flexible work policies, the number is still low: just one-third say their company has flexible work, according to a study by Deloitte. And when asked about policies introduced during the pandemic, only 22% cited corporate  flexibility around where and when they work.

With that backdrop, many organizations have responded to workplace churn and a dearth of tech talent by upskilling or reskilling existing workers and removing college degree requirements on job postings. Others are hiring through nontraditional approaches that include graduates of coding bootcamps, low-code training, and from population areas outside the norm.

Earlier this year, Expedia Group launched a return-to-work project called the Return Ticket Returnship Program, which can be attended by any worker with a caregiving gap on their resume greater than two years. The prospects don't have to be former Expedia Group employees — anyone with at least five years of tech career experience who left the workforce to care for someone can apply.

Expedia Group, which owns travel booking platforms Expedia.com, Hotels.com and Vrbo, integrates prospects into teams and matches them with a dedicated manager. The program is meant to sharpen worker skills, help them update resumes with new experiences, make networking connections, and have them begin contributing to an Expedia team with the aim of converting them to a full-time position.

Expedia Group’s goal is to have 50-50 gender balance by the end of 2025 at all levels. (Currently, women represent 47% of the company’s workforce.) The first group of interns in the Return Ticket program — seven women — graduated in April; the second group, which started in August, has 11 women and will run through the end of January.

Forty-five percent of those involved in the Return Ticket program have already converted to full-time employees at Expedia Group "because of their strong performance in the program."

rathi murthy Expedia Group

Expedia Group's CTO Rathi Murphy

Rathi Murthy, CTO of Expedia Group, is herself a mother and helped to shepherd the Return Ticket program. She responded to Computerworld questions about the organization's efforts to return workers to the workplace. The following are her responses:

What prompted the creation of the Return Ticket program? "We’re always looking for ways to build our tech talent pipeline, while also creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce. When a caregiver has to pause their career to take care of a child or an elderly parent, they can have a very tough time getting back into the workforce, because either their technical skills have lapsed, or they’ve lost their network connections.

"As a mother myself, there were definitely points in my career where I had to prioritize my family, but I was very lucky with always having amazing mentors who guided and supported me. At Expedia Group, we want to provide caregivers not just with the opportunity to pick up their careers, but with the support, mentorship and experience to truly excel."

How has the Great Resignation affected your upskilling and reskilling initiatives? "Listening to our employees is important to retaining the great talent we have at Expedia Group, which is why feedback has always been a core part of our culture. When we hear their desire for more training or career development opportunities, it's on us to make sure we act on it.

"We used feedback from our workforce to become more transparent about career advancement in the company. We’ve introduced a new approach to career development, including a tool that provides personalized recommendations for reaching individuals career goals.

"We also look for opportunities to upskill and reskill our people. Our recent investment in Udemy gives employees access to a self-paced online learning library to learn new IT skills on a schedule that works for them. Also, our learning team is currently reassessing teams' skill needs with marketplace research and employee listening sessions. These insights show us the skills that are important today and in the future, so we can make sure our employees are set up for long-term success."

How do upskilling or reskilling programs boost employee retention and why? "When employees see that we’ve acted on their feedback, it shows that we’re invested in them and their growth. Our new career development tool launched less than a month ago has already been used by more than 50% of our employees. This kind of engagement shows just how hungry they are for learning opportunities. When we set up our employees for success, it helps them to fulfill their potential and us to achieve our mission. It's a win-win."

In terms of IT, in what ways is 'empowerment’ important so IT staffers have a voice at the C-level table? "I invest a large amount of energy into developing relationships and empowering everyone on the product and technology team. It’s important that they’re highly motivated team players, who move quickly in a choreographed way to win.

"I’m also a huge proponent of reverse mentoring. I have learned a lot from new graduates coming in with fresh ideas and new ways of solving old challenges. In this field, it’s important to open your mind to new ways of working and learning from everyone — no matter their age."

Do you see a problem with IT not having enough of a voice now? "Today’s CTOs and CIOs have a much broader remit and are more tuned in to business objectives than ever before. These days, technology is the backbone of every company, which means that tech and IT strategies need to align with business goals to be successful. Businesses can change rapidly, and too often IT projects are paused or changed before they can deliver value, so there needs to be a firm commitment from all parties to stay the course.

"It’s also important to have defined business metrics and demonstrate clearly how technology is moving the needle for the company. The team responsible for delivery should also be set up in the right way — they will be accountable for delivering business outcomes, so durability is essential."

What is more important on a candidate’s resume – their degrees or skills? Has that balance shifted recently? "When we hire, we're looking for the most qualified candidate. A candidate's skillset, experience, willingness to learn, and enthusiasm for our mission and values are always part of our evaluation. As we build our presence as a technology company powering travel, we need an experienced team with a diverse set of skills who can work through challenges and who want to continue to grow and learn throughout their career.

"We also strongly believe in creating equitable employment opportunities in tech. We have an apprenticeship program, which is an 18-month rotational program for people who do not have a degree. Their skills and experience get them in the door, and we provide on-the-job learning opportunities and prepare them for a role in our tech organization.

"Hiring is key to representation, and we continue to focus on hiring talent that represents the diverse travelers we serve."

You've used the term 'mindful tech leadership' in describing your approach to a healthy workforce. What is that and why is it important? "I have a passion to create a stress-free corporate America. In my personal time, I practice yoga and meditation, which teaches the importance of mindfulness. My experience with digitally transforming tech companies has convinced me that there is a better path forward for a more mindful approach to tech leadership that empowers teams.

"Fostering data-driven cultures where leaders are empowered to continuously reprioritize workstreams means that teams can focus on solving problems that create the most value for the business. I spend a lot of time and energy empowering my team so that we’re all pulling in the same direction. This helps us be more agile and ship solutions faster while sharing wins."

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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