Women leaving companies is for their families, it is because they don’t feel valued or listened to within their work environment.
I hear the lament all the time, “Women leave at mid-career.” “We do well hiring women, but most of them leave after 5-7 years.” While managers may not admit it out loud, most believe that women leave their companies to spend more time with their children. And, while that’s certainly true for some, a woman’s decision to exit is usually prompted by an inhospitable work environment.
My favorite analogy about women leaving the workplace comes from Adam Quinton, Founder/CEO of Lucas Point Ventures and Adjunct Professor at Columbia University. He compares women who leave the workplace to canaries who were the early warning signals for coal miners. When canaries died in the mine, the miners didn’t blame them, they understood that something was wrong with the environment in the mine, bad not just for the canaries, but also for the miners themselves.
Instead of attributing women’s departure solely to external factors, change your workplace atmosphere – culture, practices, and the way employees interact with each other. You’ll create the type of environment where women – and everyone else – want to work.
Instead of asking “why do the 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, growing professionally, and they don’t feel fairly compensated. Women tell me that they leave the companies where they work not for a single reason, but because of countless slights that add up. They describe it as “death by a thousand cuts.”
So, here are four simple, immediate actions you can take to improve your environment, not only for women, but also for yourself and everyone else.
Limit Single-Gender Lunches
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 the same gender.
Lunch 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. Mining data from twenty-five years of Gallup research and interviews with more than a million employees, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman distilled twelve questions that correlate employee engagement and high performance. One of those questions is “Do you have a best friend at work?” When people feel a part of a team, they feel loyal to that team and are less likely to quit. So, reach out to the women you work with, regularly invite them to lunch.
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. As she overheard his conversations, 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.
We know that diverse teams are more creative, innovative and profitable. Yet, we persist on seeking out and engaging with people who are most like us. 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.
Give Her High-Profile Assignments – (Don’t ask her to take the notes)
Professional development and advancement come from having varied, meaningful, impactful experiences. If you overlook or 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 the opportunity to grow.
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 with lots of travel and did not approach them about an opportunity. In each case, they had to confront their manager, ask for the opportunity and explain something they shouldn’t have to – how they would be able to handle the assignment and their families.
We don’t want to believe that pay disparities between men and women exist. But, the data continues to show that we do. Regularly take a look at the salaries of the people on your team. Make sure that people with the same responsibilities and contributions are paid the same. Don’t rely on an applicant’s ability to negotiate their salary be the determinant of what they get paid. Some people are better negotiators than others. Don’t set a new employee’s salary based solely on what they made in their last job. Under that practice, women who started off being under paid relative to their male peers, stay under paid. Set salaries on objective criteria for the position.
If the “air in your mine” is toxic for women, it’s likely to be toxic for you and everyone else.
To improve your results, don’t accept it as inevitable that women will leave. You can retain high performing women, reduce your recruiting and turnover costs, and improve your outcomes if you value and include the women around you.
Rania H. Anderson is the author of WE: Men, Women, and the Decisive Formula for Winning at Work (CLICK HERE to get your copy). She strengthens and transforms the way men and women work together to improve their collective success. Sought after for her unique insights and expertise, she speaks at corporations, coaches business leaders and is an angel investor. To learn more, visit: www.TheWayWoMenWork.com.
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