“A tap takes 20 minutes to fill an empty bathtub. The drain takes 30 minutes to empty the tub when it is full. If both the tap and the drain are opened at the same time, how long will it take to fill the empty tub?” Women are still talked about as an oddity rather than a majority. Females represent 51% of the adult population and a higher proportion of university students. In professions such as law and accounting, young women represent 2/3 of newly qualified workers. Yet the corporate bathtub keeps emptying faster than it can fill. The World Economic Forum predicted last year that it would take “79 years, 11 months, 3 weeks and 4 days ’til companies and governments will be equally led by women and men”. That’s four generations… Incremental, laissez-faire change just won’t be good enough. So where do we start? The key to plugging the drain is to understand why women leave. Clue: women are not leaving to bake cupcakes – they join your competitors or start their own business. Companies rarely know the true answers. Assumptions are made about ‘domestic’ reasons. This is usually said in the tone reserved for ‘women’s troubles’ and never talked about again. As often as not, women tell us that no-one, not even the Head of Diversity asked them why they were leaving. It gets more complicated because women are rarely honest when they leave organisations, for these reasons:
- They don’t want to be seen as ‘bad leavers’
- They do not want to blot their copy book with people in their network
- They just do not want to give their company the benefit of the opinion that no-one asked for while they were still in the job
We have carried out research for a major financial organisation, interviewing women leavers in confidence, leading to profound insights and practical solutions. Some revelations were hysterical, others grim to hear:
- Leaving an executive role in a FTSE 100 company, one woman quoted the male colleague who said, “yes but you just work for pin money. Your husband is well off”. He wasn’t joking and thankfully, in that instant, words failed her.
- The role of the line manager was critical. A retail area was thriving with good balance in the genders, due hugely to the collaborative and rewarding style of the male manager. When he left, his replacement resorted to command and control management, taking the glory for himself, crediting no-one and certainly not upholding the newly espoused values of the organisation. The women flooded away to new jobs (with competitors).
- Flexibility is not skiving. A woman, recognized for her talent and hard work in the organization was internally head hunted. Her boss refused to permit her to take the promotion, mentioning that she was very lucky to be ‘allowed to work from home two days a week’. She now works for the competition, earning twice as much and with all the flexibility she could want. She is still stunned that the new firm didn’t want to know where or when she worked as long as her output was maintained. After all, they did have all the technology for agile working and they trusted her.
Insights like this ensure that you know the issues and design the interventions accordingly.All your efforts to create a larger tap through attractive recruitment may make your stats healthier but will come to nothing if you can’t keep these women. Thought-through goals and a well-designed strategy are essential to playing the longer, smarter game to success and stop the female brain drain. It shouldn’t take 79 years! Get in touch with us here or telephone us on 020 7036 8899.