Why She Leaves Your Company & 7 Things You Can Do About It

I regularly hear these types of laments: “Women don’t stay at our company.” “We do well hiring women but many leave after five to seven years.”

My favorite analogy about why women leave the workplace comes from Adam Quinton, Founder/CEO of Lucas Point Ventures and Adjunct Professor at Columbia University. He compared women who leave the workplace to the canary in coal mine, which was an early warning signals for miners. When canaries died in the mine, the miners didn’t blame the birds, they understood that something was wrong with the environment of the mine.

It was bad not just for the canaries, but also for the miners themselves.

Although most managers don’t admit it out loud, many don’t know why women leave their companies or they assume that the reason is because they want to spend more time with their children. And while that’s certainly true for some, a woman’s decision to exit is usually provoked by an inhospitable work environment.

Instead of assuming and attributing women’s departure solely to external factors, adjust your workplace atmosphere to create the type of environment where women (and everyone else!) wants to work.

Instead of asking, “why do women leave?” ask instead, “What can I do so women will stay?”

Women (and men) leave companies because they don’t feel included, they aren’t challenged or growing professionally, and they don’t feel fairly compensated. Women report that they don’t leave for a single reason, but because of countless slights that add up. They describe it as “death by a thousand cuts.”

In addition to interrupting unconscious bias, eliminating microagressions and harassment, here’s how you can make a difference.

7 straightforward actions you can take:

1. Ask Her

Who do you consult and brainstorm with? Whose opinions do you seek?

A female attorney relayed to me how excluded she felt as she watched one of her male colleagues go into the offices of three other male attorneys to ask their opinion about a decision he was grappling with. She knew that she was the only one in the office with first-hand experience with this same type of decision, yet her colleague never came to talk to her.

If you proactively and regularly ask your female colleagues to weigh in and incorporate their perspective, they will know that they are valued and integral part of your team.

2. Figure Out Why

Ask the women you work with why their female colleagues have left. Listen empathetically and carefully. Probe to get down to real causes. Try asking a few women in a group – they may be more likely to open up. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) uncovered a different explanation when they asked high-potential, mid-career women who had left the firm.

3. Give Her High-Profile Assignments

(And, don’t ask her to take meeting notes!) For many people, professional development, challenging assignments, and advancement factor prominently into job satisfaction. If you think your female employees can’t take on strategic, risky, big or important assignments, or just as badly, assume they won’t want them, you are denying them opportunities to grow, be challenged, contribute, and advance.

In a 2018 PwC study of survey of 3,627 women around the world, including women at the critical time in their careers where starting a family or taking on caring responsibilities coincides with milestones in career development, 58 percent identified the need for greater transparency from their employers to improve career development opportunities.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of women tell me that their manager assumed that they would not want an international assignment or a more senior role or a role that had a travel requirement, so they did not approach her about an opportunity. In each case, they had to confront their manager, ask for the opportunity, and explain something they should not have had to – how they would be able to handle the assignment and their families. In this study 46 percent of new mothers felt overlooked for promotions and special projects.

4. Pay Her

We don’t want to believe that pay disparities between men and women still exist. But the data shows that it does. Take a frequent look at the salaries of the people on your team. Make sure that people with the same responsibilities and contributions are paid the same. Parse the data in several ways. For example, look specifically at people of color and see if people with a specific arbitrary background, or someone who was referred to you, have higher levels of compensation.

Don’t rely on an applicant’s ability to negotiate their salary determine what they get paid. Some people are better negotiators than others. And don’t set a new employee’s salary based on what they made in their last job. Under these practices, women who started off being underpaid relative to their male peers, stay underpaid. Set salaries on objective criteria for the role and maintain equity.

5. Limit Single-Gender Workplace Interactions

When was the last time you had lunch with your female colleagues or female clients?

When I asked this question during a speaking engagement at a leading architecture firm, everyone realized that they almost always ate lunch with people of their same gender. Lunch and after-hours socializing with colleagues is a time when we relax a little, get to know each other, and it’s also a time when we talk about business, clients, the office. It’s a time when people feel connected and included.

6. Offer and Support Flexible Work Schedules

All employees value flexibility and the ability to have a flexible schedule has an outsized impact when it comes to recruiting and retaining women. Unless there is a strict business reason why flexible work schedules won’t work at your organization, offer them. As importantly, don’t penalize or make assumptions about someone who works a flexible schedule. We are no longer in in the 19th century factory era, so don’t have industrial era work schedule expectations. Measure your staff on results, not time in the office.

7. Talk to Your Company About Offering Paternity Leave

Companies have found that turnover among women is reduced when men get equal paternity leave as maternity leave because:

  • Managers better understand that everyone has life responsibilities instead of operating as if women are the only ones with family care responsibilities.
  • Women are better able to manage their work and life responsibilities and feel more equipped and supported to continue on their professional paths.

If the “air in your mine” is toxic for women, it’s most likely to be toxic for you and everyone else.

To improve your results, don’t accept as inevitable that women will leave. You can retain high-performing women, reduce your recruiting and turnover costs, and improve your business outcomes if you value and include the women around you.

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