April 23 2021 • 4 min read • Gender Equality
A Mckinsey study revealed that 2 in 5 women considered leaving the workforce in 2020. In another study, a disturbing statistic revealed that, 50% of the women of colour interviewed said they are planning to leave their jobs in corporate America between 2021 and 2022, and not all was blamed on COVID.
Dr. Patti Collett Miles once conducted a study in 2013 to understand why educated, successful women were exiting the workforce in droves after making incredible strides in their careers. She discovered that lack of flexibility, the need to constantly balance masculine and feminine qualities at work, and the organisation’s failure to support the intrinsic motivators of the female workforce, were the three main reasons why women left. Many years later these factors remain a challenge and more studies have since been conducted and reveal new trends on why women don’t stay.
1. Lack of psychological safety.
Women and underrepresented minorities feel significantly less psychologically safe in their places of work. Psychological safety is the shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.” When Google set out to study what drove high performing teams, their key finding was psychological safety. Psychological safety fosters productivity and creativity. Teams and organisations that do not create spaces in which all employees feel free to be themselves run the risk of driving out valuable talent. People don’t stay in places where they do not feel safe or welcomed. This is one reason why women continue to search for organisations that allow and encourage them to bring their whole selves to work.
How is your organisation working to create a safe environment in which all your employees feel comfortable to be themselves, to share their thoughts and actively contribute without fear? Has your organisation made an effort to understand the levels of psychological safety across groups?
2. Equal opportunities to succeed still a challenge.
Women start out in their careers like everyone else, eager to show their value, and hungry to learn and grow. This eagerness and career optimism is unfortunately instantly challenged as women start to witness disparities in the opportunities provided to men and women in the workplace. Men are often provided stretch opportunities and also enjoy sponsors who use their influence in the business and in industry to advocate for them, ensuring that their careers advance at a reasonable pace. While on the contrary, women often have to drive their own career endorsement campaigns, which sometimes includes convincing their own mentors of their readiness for the next career level. Because of this, many organisations continue to experience a great loss of female talent in their pipeline.
Is your organisation deliberate on the support provided to women to develop and progress their careers, and is there measurement to track the progression of your female talent year on year?
3. Unfair balance between effort put in and reward.
For every dollar a man makes, a woman only makes $0,77. In South Africa, 61% of female executives earn below the industry average for their career level, whilst most male executives are paid above the industry average. The reality is that even in the most junior levels, women remain underpaid though fulfilling the same duties as their male counterparts. A study conducted by ICEDR revealed that remuneration is the number one reason why women leave their jobs.
How transparent is your organisation about the pay gap and are there focused efforts to balance it out?
A recent focus group we conducted with women across different industries and career levels in South Africa revealed that women are committed to the work they do, and would like to do more and advance their careers within their organisations. They believe that their organisations value them, however do not put in place structures to support them in driving their careers in a meaningful way. Because of this, women continue to search for new and better opportunities. 46% of the women interviewed say they have changed companies or roles in the past 18 months. 55% indicated that they are thinking of leaving their current organisation.
Women are becoming more impatient with the slow transformation in the workplace. With advancements in technology, access to opportunities in different markets, and the low costs of starting a business, women are seeing an opportunity to lead careers they’ve always hoped to have and to create spaces for themselves where they stand a chance to thrive.
Organisations remain at risk of not achieving gender equality and reaping the benefits of their investment in this area. If the real issues of why women leave are left unaddressed, organisations will end up with far fewer women in leadership — and even fewer women on track to becoming future leaders in the business. It is time to be deliberate in managing and monitoring the key issues that drive women to leave.