Retaining and Attracting Women Leaders

How to Take a Hard & Honest Look at the Corporate Systems that Keep You From Retaining and Attracting Women Leaders

By Audrey McGuckin, CEO, WOTW - 

People often say that the issue is that women need more development. Yes, that may be true but equally true is that the system needs more development. Structures, mindsets, culture, the need for speed in placing new positions, men's fear of giving women the tough feedback they need to grow....all of these factors contribute to a systemic issue that is not easily solved by simply "developing" more women leaders. More of the same programming and DEI investment is not going to create the change that’s needed. 


How do we know the system needs development? 


These stats tell the story:

  • The Conference Board recently found that women are disproportionately suffering from work-related pressures—at more than 1.5 times the rate of their male counterparts. 
  • 82% more women than men reported mental health as their biggest concern and 77% listed concerns like stress and burnout as one of the biggest well-being challenges at work.
  • Reuters recently reported that “about 350,000 women aged 20 and older left the workforce in September and August of this year, while 321,000 men in the same age group came on board.” 
  • McKinsey & Company found that 40% of employees are “somewhat likely” to quit in the next 3-6 months.  

All during a time when gender equity is of top concern for CEOs, and California is banning all-male boardrooms. Regardless of what side you sit on with these issues, change is happening and gender representation in corporate America is being reshaped.

I work with a number of Fortune 100 CEOs, and right now the topic is how to retain and attract women leaders. CEOs want to understand what’s driving turnover in their organizations and what they can do to drive retention.

In my 30 years doing this work, I have found the top 3 things that drive retention are:

  1. Work-life balance
  2. Feeling valued by your manager 
  3. A sense of belonging

So, if you're a leader looking for a program that results in meaningful, long-lasting change and ultimately retention, what can you do? You can start by tackling the systemic issues in your company and changing them.



Here are your first steps to addressing your systemic issues:



1. Develop a system that listens to the women in your organization and then start listening

If you aren’t able to connect with and listen to the women in your organization, there’s a lack of support in your corporate system. You need to develop a system that listens and supports. Once you do that, create a dialogue with them that asks them this important question: What is driving you to be burned out?
When you listen, you’re going to find that the answer is different for each one of them. For some, it will be kids at home or in college, for others aging parents, for others not enough life support. By hearing their issues, you will begin to understand the ways in which your system fails in supporting them. 


2. Show deep personalized empathy and support

The way to navigate burnout is to invest in the women on your team. This next step is to uncover specific solutions for your employees. Keep in mind that it will be different and deeply personalized for each person, but what you offer will benefit everyone. One CEO I work with recently gave each employee $500 to use for well-being services. Another offered childcare support for the company. Take what you uncovered in Step 1 and build services or solutions that solve the real issues plaguing your employees. 


3. Formally recognize and support managers who support their women

The CEO can’t be everything to everyone--it’s literally impossible. You have to distribute this responsibility to leaders across the organization. This starts by teaching your managers how to implement the new systems you’ve created. How to listen, show empathy, and develop ideas for support.

Next, declare your position to the company. Let everyone know the whats and whys behind this cultural shift. Let them be a part of it and know that as their leader you care. Make it known that managers will follow your lead. Then lead.

When managers step up and support the women on their teams, recognize their efforts. Reward them. Make sure it’s public and often so the culture and system make a real shift towards change.


4. Dive deeper by asking yourself some tough questions

The key is being honest with yourself. Look at all of the structures you have in place that hurt your people and ultimately your business.

If you’re a CEO ask:

  • Are you keeping toxic leaders in place? Be honest and get rid of the ones who don’t exemplify the culture you’re looking to create.
  • Are you attempting to address attrition with transactions? Stop throwing money at your problem with random bonus or compensation programs and address the issues.
  • Are your benefits in line with your goals and taking care of your employees? You could be spending money on things that have the best intentions but actually don’t help your employees. 
  • Do you have clear career paths for employees? One way to implement this is by coaching women and setting up sponsorships. More about that in our other WOTW blog post
  • Are you focused on building a sense of community despite the channel of a remote work environment? Continue to create new ways to connect with authentic ways.

And once you’ve done this, you can take your system approach to the next level by joining WOTW Compass. This two-phased program engages your executive team to transform mindsets, build leadership capability, and design talent strategies that foster the advancement of women in your organization. Set up a call with us today so we can uncover how to address your systems issues and find success.





Take your journey to the next step. Learn more or enroll in the program here
Registration closes November 16, 2021


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