The 5 Things Every Organization Must Do to Retain Women Leaders
Empathy, psychological health and creating space make the top of the list.
By Audrey McGuckin, CEO, WOTW -
A Gallup poll this year showed that more than half of workers in the U.S. left their jobs due to poor leadership. Federal data shows that more than a million women left the workforce from January 2020 to January 2022, and women accounted for 63 percent of all jobs lost during that time.
This is at a time when the stakes for gender equity and DEI are high. Diverse companies outperform. On top of that, companies actually need women to run gender equity programs. Lean In reported that women “are more likely than men at their levels to take consistent steps to promote employee well-being, such as checking in on their team members and helping them manage their workloads. They are also more likely to support DEI initiatives and to be active allies to women of color”.
The numbers show that organizations cannot afford to lose any more women leaders. So, what are the steps organizations can take to retain their women leaders? At Women On Their Way, we’ve been working with dozens of CEOs over the past two years to help them solve this issue. Here is the list of the top things we’ve learned.
The top 5 things every organization must do to retain women leaders:
1. Lead with empathy and listen deeply to women’s needs – Each woman is different and the organizations that win at retaining women leaders customize their approach to each woman. Leaders can spend time getting to know their employees’ challenges. They can make sure women feel supported in their roles and that they see a growth path. Leaders can’t relegate this to HR. They actually need to do the work (remember, the fish rots from the head!). By letting the women on the team know that they are being invested in they will see opportunities for growth.
2. Support women leaders with psychological health - Women are suffering from burnout at a much higher rate than men. Forbes recently reported that 54% of women “say their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago, and almost half feel burned out. While this year’s respondents rate their mental wellbeing as slightly better than last year’s, almost half say their mental health is poor/very poor. One-third have taken time off work because of mental health challenges, yet only 43% feel comfortable talking about these challenges in the workplace.”
More than three quarters of senior HR leaders say that allowing employees to work flexible hours is one of the most effective things they have done to improve employee well-being over the past year. Employees who feel they have to be available 24/7 are twice as likely to feel burnt out.
If you are not paying attention to burnout then you’re not paying attention to your workforce. And that will cost you.
3. Understand the career aspirations of women leaders and support them with targeted development that is meaningful to them. Only 12% of women always knew they wanted to be a CEO. More than half gave no thought to being CEO until someone explicitly told them they had it in them. In other words, many women uplevel their career aspirations because a leader believed in them. Spend more time with your women leaders to understand where they want to take their careers. You can do this through 1:1 meetings. The goal is to be intentional about getting to know their aspirations and supporting them along the way.
4. Provide coaching – Executive coaching is the great equalizer. Women leaders don’t always ask for what they need and offering coaching can make all of the difference. We have a director-level woman in our Navigator program whose manager signed her up for WOTW coaching. In a year she has learned how to build her career and ask for what she needs. Her self-confidence has risen and she is now taking on new tasks and doing really well in her role. That is all thanks to a coaching program.
5. Create space for peer learning – Peer learning taps into existing expertise. Studies find that peer learning is especially well-suited to the way humans learn new information. At WOTW, we have found that creating space where women leaders can connect, provides incredible opportunities for learning and growth. Our year-long Navigator is a great example of this. Women from varying industries come together once a month for programming and we provide them with a space to learn from each other. Many of the participants say that the support from the group was the most amazing aspect. Leaders create space for women in their organizations by signing them up for programs that involve a peer learning element. This gives them a huge opportunity to grow.
Join a WOTW Learning Session
Click here to join us for our next WOTW Learning Session. Hear about the 5 programs WOTW offers to help develop women leaders at all levels of your organization. Free to join, these learning sessions take place bi-weekly with the WOTW Team.