Companies need to learn why women leave
Why women leave businesses is not complicated, so organisations need to start with some serious self-examination
Hardly a week goes by when I don’t read a piece written about why women leave their companies. Whether it’s tech, law, accounting firms, or big corporates such as Nike which made the headlines recently. Many of these sectors, and companies within them, have high levels of churn at a critical point in the lives and careers of their female employees.
This week I had a conversation with Birgitta (not her real name) about her career. She was in a taxi to the airport at 1700 to catch a night flight for a breakfast meeting the following day. She is a multi-lingual, high-powered and successful international Sales V.P. in the Tech sector. During the years I have known and worked with her, she is regularly approached by companies and head hunters, with attractive offers to jump ship. Some opportunities she dismisses out of hand. Others she considers seriously. She has a very strong idea of her values and is willing to walk away from organisations when they are out of sync with her own. She is aware of her value on the market.
Birgitta is a typical case study.
In the discussion about her career progression, she articulated very clearly what considerations are important for her next move. Her comments resonated, because I am hearing them spoken all the time. Companies read, learn and listen!
No Women on the Executive Committee
Having women in highly visible positions of influence and authority is really important. Not just because they help boost revenue, but they show a message of confidence in the women in the organisation. When Birgitta asked her CEO why there were no women on the leadership team, his response was “women don’t want to be like us.“
No they don’t! But that doesn’t mean to say they can’t make an equal contribution to support the success of your company at a senior level.
Weak HR function
When tasked to recruit women for two open slots on her team, Birgitta encountered “we can’t find any.” That is nothing short of lazy hiring practises. This means that indolent recruiters can’t be bothered to do a little creative thinking.
A strong HR function committed to diversity and inclusion is critical. What we don’t want are any more indifferent or ineffective HR VPs, driving policies and operations, oblivious to the unconscious biases that plague their organisations. The number of women who experience illegal interview questions is alarmingly high.
That’s before we go onto discuss unconscious bias.
Male coded messages
Tired of being surrounded by male coded messages at every step, Birgitta will only consider a move to a company with a committed and visible gender balance policy. The company will need to walk the talk. So whether this is a real equal pay policy, retraining and leadership development programs, return-ships or parenting opportunities, companies having these in place will be a key market differentiator to attract female talent.
Toxic bosses or culture
Toxic bosses can actually be male or female. But as the senior levels are male dominated they do tend to be male. They are generally poor leaders, inconsistent communicators, moody and unpredictable, have vague performance expectations which gives them permission to be unrelentingly critical, as women struggle to perform to unspecified goals. They create an atmosphere of distrust where all fear failure in an environment which lacks psychological safety. Women experience “mico-aggressions” on a daily basis. Some might be sexist in tone, others not. As we saw in Nike only this week where a number of high level women left because of the toxic and sexist management culture.
Reported in the New York Times those women interviewed said:
“the workplace environment was demeaning to women. Three people reportedly said there were instances where men referred to other people using a crude term for women’s genitals. Another woman said that her boss called her a “stupid bitch” and threw his car keys at her. She said that he still remained her boss even after reporting the alleged incident to human resources.”
So when companies ask why women leave, and moan that their numbers are out of sync with their targets, then some serious self-examination will be necessary from male leadership teams.
Or perhaps was we saw with Nike it will take a revolt from the women concerned and those men will be forced leave too.
The question is will action be taken fast enough?