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Why My Startup Is Betting On 'Returnships' To Help Women Restart Their Careers

Like most CEOs in growing companies, one of my chief concerns has always been talent. I thought about all parts of the employee lifecycle. I obsess about finding great people, making them successful, developing their skills, and retaining them for the long haul. Research has long shown that more diverse teams produce better business results. Outside of work, I started to notice something as I entered my 40s – female friends and colleagues were leaving their careers for a period of time to focus on their children and finding it difficult to restart their careers. Their attempts were thwarted by bias from recruiters and hiring managers who were reluctant to consider a candidate with a career gap or someone who wanted something less than a full-time role. So we decided to launch an experiment at Return Path. Our CTO and human resources leaders convinced me that we could find success by building a new kind of internship program aimed specifically at women looking to restart their careers…

Meet The Startup That's Pulling Trackable Data From Your Company's Culture

Culture Amp was founded in 2011 (Photo courtesy of Culture Amp/

Startups talk about culture all the time. Building it, championing it, spreading it. Its importance is recognized by the broader ecosystem because it represents a key foundation to growing a company. Businesses are encouraged to create a workplace that facilitates both employee empowerment and prolific performance. But the challenge of building such a culture is rooted in a lack of trackable data.
If culture isn't measured, how can it be deliberately improved?
An Australian startup called Culture Amp is addressing this problem by giving companies analytics and data on their culture.
Culture Amp is an “employee feedback and analytics platform” founded by Didier Elzinga, Jon Williams, Douglas English and Rod Hamilton. By using “research-backed surveys,” Culture Amp collects data on teams by asking for honest and relevant feedback. The responses given by employees, which boast an “80% return rate,” are interpreted by the platform’s proprietary software. Having been designed by a team of experts in technology, data science and organizational psychology, there is a strong emphasis on credible data collection. The results are then distilled into actionable reports for clients, which detail information on employee engagement, employee experience and employee effectiveness.
This forms the basis for what the platform refers to as a “complete picture.” The strength of the platform is in providing organizations data about their employees that wouldn’t otherwise be available. There are wider organizational benefits of synthesizing employee responses into reports. These reports can be distributed to different team members with “[customizable] levels of access” and also gives “insights for everyone” compared against industry benchmarks. This approach gives companies an objective indication of their performance, which allows for increased accountability.
In my conversation with Elzinga, he detailed Culture Amp’s mission to “make the power of people analytics accessible to everyone.” Perhaps it was the unavailability of such a solution that had inhibited its prioritization. He said that they “want to be the platform that brings the data in-house” because their objective is to "tell [organizations] the story of their culture and their people.” Elzinga believes this will facilitate more informed decision making, which in the context of an increasingly transient market, can be beneficial.
People data helps organizations better understand their own performances — positive or negative.
Businesses currently pay attention to financial metrics. It is common to track analytics for conversions, engagement, ROI, churn, LTV and a multitude of other quantitative vitals. This data is the most available information to organizations and thus is given the most weight. This is an example of the availability bias, which suggests people tend to perceive the importance of information proportionate to its prominence in their minds. Because number-driven data is consistently tracked, it is in the forefront of their decision-making and evaluation processes. This encourages companies to overrepresent their implications on performance and underrepresent the role of culture.
Culture Amp is trying to shift this mindset by providing organizations with not only more data, but deeper data.
Data around employees enables a more holistic evaluation of a company. It accounts for the culture of a company, which represents intangible factors that influence decision making. Unfortunately, however, businesses are inclined to engage in a psychological heuristic called selective perception. This is the disposition for our minds to evaluate scenarios through the lens of pre-formed conclusions. These preconceptions, given the availability of number-driven data, is that quantitative vitals are more accurate factors in explaining a company’s performance.
Elzinga wants to address this bias blind spot and believes corporations “need to understand that people are beneficial.” He emphasized that ultimately,“Data helps us see where we are emotional… [Culture Amp] gives the data to allow [companies] to see what’s black and white.” The aim here is to highlight to companies that they are unconsciously undervaluing culture as a factor in their performance. This awareness seeks to encourage a structural reform.
Culture Amp’s growth is a testament to how many companies resonate with this culture-centric philosophy. The Australian startup, which operates a SaaS model, currently services clients such as Slack, AirBnb, Pinterest, Box and Easy. Elzinga credits his company’s 300% year-on-year growth to a commitment to its community. “We invested and believed in the idea that the community was bigger than our customers.” This was a problem that was pertinent to a wide-spanning demographic. The brand’s credibility is echoed by the companies that have trusted in its platform.
Culture Amp raised $10M Series B in March 2016 (Photo courtesy of Culture Amp /

Culture Amp’s team identify themselves as “people geeks”. This is a collective label that describes them as an “intersection between psychology and data science.” They prioritize the scientific underpinnings and the quality of the information they collect. They advocate for the analysis of people resources and its role in overall business performance. They are, by spreading the platform to organizations worldwide, hoping to catalyze a cultural shift.
James Nguyen is a Partner at M5859 Apps, which created App of The Year and official apps for global brands. If you want to chat or have an app idea, contact at
- James Nguyen