“Why are women leaving your company?” is often answered with “Because they are taking a break from work to start a family”. Those people are wrong. Yes, some women do take time out from the careers from family life but the primary reason for the draining of female talent from organisations lies with companies themselves. Interestingly if you ask the same question regarding men the stock response becomes “because they are unhappy with the pay they get and their promotion prospects”. A 2015 study by LinkedIn revealed that women do not cite work/life balance as a factor in them leaving a company.
The reality is that men and women leaving your company in their 30s are doing so for the same reasons. Yet women tend to be typecast as mothers, maybe this makes it easier to ignore the problem and not deal with the underlying causes. The reasons why women leave are complex and depend very much on the individual – but take the time to understand what the really are and you can keep your female talent, and increase your organisations chances of success.
It shouldn’t be happening, most people know this. Yet, some organisations are failing to address a culture of sexism that makes positions untenable for women in their droves. If a woman is faced with constant sexist comments and behaviour it isn’t always easy to take action (for example going to the HR department or complaining to a manager) if the culture is predominately male.
Sometimes it is easier to remove yourself from the situation entirely and go and work somewhere else. It is best practice to allow the forum of an exit interview – this is where these painful truths may come to the fore. If you get a sense that sexism is the reason why your losing your best women – you need to act fast to address your toxic culture. It might be subtle sexism, but you still need to address it. The snowball effect of daily comments can make women decide that ‘enough is enough’ before you even realise there is a problem. If women leaving your company feel this way they will take their stories with them, this can have a devastating effect on your brand.
The Glass Ceiling
Think about the last 10 promotions to senior level in your company. How many of them were women? Are you running a boys club or a business? A 2017 study by McKinsey & Co and Lean in revealed that at the first critical step up to manager, women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers. Imagine the frustration at not getting to the next level, when you deserve it due to your skills and experience? This has a devastating effect and makes the difficult decision of jumping ship a no-brainer.
Why bother giving your all for a company when they consistently ignore your talent? Look at the gender make up of your leadership team and senior management. If you have few women in these positions you have a problem and you need to fix it. That talented graduate that has just joined won’t hang around if there is no avenue for advancement.
Lack of development
Every employee should feel like they are growing. If they grow then the paths to advancement in their career becomes clearer. However many women feel that they are left behind when it comes to development opportunities. The reasons for this are complex and often made up with a combination of lack of confidence and lack of having a voice in the work place. But the solutions can be relatively painless. You need to have a programme in place specifically addressing the development of women in your organisation.
Opening up the lines of communication is vital. Ask yourself, do the women in my company have access to informal networks within the business? Do the senior management engage with women in your company in the same way and frequency they do with men who ‘have their ear’? If not you need to act or your female talent pool will be a temporary one. Consider mentorship programmes and ways to use your existing talent to help women maximise their potential.
Gender Pay Gap
Yes its real. Yes you need to pay attention and do something about it. Recent UK studies show that we have a long way to go on this front. Men and women are both likely to quit in the face of unfair wage structures so pay attention to how much you pay your staff. If you don’t feel the pay gap exists in your business back it up with facts and champion your policies. Ignoring it won’t make it go away – but the women in your company will. Make sure that entry level positions are payed the same for men and women. If a woman feels she has to work twice as hard and long to keep up with her male colleagues. She won’t hang around and will be part of the statistic of women leaving your company.
How to stop women leaving your company
You need to listen to what the women in your company are saying and feeling. You might think you run a perfectly diverse business but the reality might be different. Having programmes in place to highlight this is crucial – and a vital part of implementing a wider diversity programme.
Focus on more than mothers
There is no doubt that support for mothers and allowing flexible working for a decent work/life balance is important. But don’t focus on this alone. The facts show that equal pay and having a good chance of promotion are equally as important, if not more so. Women leaving your company to start a family should be supported on their return and encouraged to come back.
Help Women and you will help men
Yes, I have exclusively spoken about the reasons why women leave companies. But, I did state that the facts show that men and women leave companies for similar reasons. So it makes sense that once you find out the big issues that are having a negative effect on your female employees you will find out what is the biggest issues effecting your employees in general. You can guarantee that if the women leaving your company don’t feel they are getting the right development, some of the men feel exactly the same way.