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Women leaders are quitting at a record pace: What can enterprises do?

McKinsey Partner Gayatri Shenai

Women leaders are quitting their companies at the highest rate ever seen — and at a much higher rate than men in leadership. That’s according to the eighth annual McKinsey & Company’s Women in the Workplace report.

Having efforts overlooked and a lack of flexibility were among the causes the report cites for the exodus.

(The sample size is significant, this was not a small contingent selected for PR purposes: McKinsey surveyed 40,000 employees at 333 participating organisations employing more than 12 million people globally.)

“Compared to men at their level, women leaders do more to support employee well-being and foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work that contributes to better retention and employee satisfaction, but is not formally rewarded in most companies” McKinsey said – 49% of women leaders meanwhile say flexibility is one of the top three things they consider when deciding whether stay with a company, versus 34% of men leaders.”

What can we do differently?

Speaking to The Stack this week, McKinsey Partner Gayatri Shenai said: “This is not our first report, it’s our eighth report and the unfortunate news is it’s not looking too much brighter than it has in the past. 

“When it comes [more broadly] to women participation in the workforce things have basically stagnated.”

She added: “What’s really different this time though, is that we are seeing women leaders leave at the highest rate ever: For every one director that is getting promoted into that role, two women leader directors are leaving. It’s large numbers; women leaders are consistently feeling overworked and under recognised.”

Shenai, who is a co-founder of the McKinsey Women in Technology & Operations Conference, said there is no “silver bullet” but there are clear actions organisations can take to reverse a worryingly retrograde trend.

She said: “There are several things that companies can do now from from a solution perspective [including] equitable access to skill-building; better matching programmes to pair women with sponsors; and tackling the ‘broken rung’ problem” – or uneven early-promotions processes that perpetuate bias at recruitment. 

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She added: “When we look at data, there are women with kids without childcare, for example who want to work from home; less than one day a week in the workplace. How do you ensure that that woman has similar opportunities to grow and is not been penalised for not coming in, especially when she’s having a similar impact?

[It’s about] ensuring that evaluations are based on measurable results… this is going to be important in a remote-hybrid environment. The same thing applies to incentivising and rewarding good managers, because this is where it breaks. [Managers need to] have the training, the accountability in their processes and the KPIs to ensure that they are investing in the advancement of of colleagues that are diverse [and asking] ‘how do I get armed as a manager to integrate bias checks?’ Those are structural things that need to be in the process.”

Grumpy entrenched leaders muttering into their cornflakes about all of this – look to the bottom line.

A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues. The World Economic Forum meanwhile notes that companies leading their geography and industry for DE&I perform better than their market average across a wide range of key performance metrics including profitability (up to 36% more likely to outperform); innovation (19% higher innovation revenues) and “statistically significant causal relationship with engagement and retention, for all employees”.

Just 8 of the FTSE 100’s CISOs are women. Boards need to step up

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