About 12 months in the past, Fortune posted an editorial titled “What Everyone Gets Wrong About Why Millennial Women Quit Their Jobs.” The article provided the “leaky pipeline,” female burnout, stress, and motherhood—and finally came to one conclusion: that women leave for better pay and opportunity...the same reasons men do. There are numerous reasons for leaving a job, for sure, however, if it were as simple as “we should just treat women like men,” shouldn't we have figured it out by now?
Society has been telling professional American women to act like men since the 1950s, but men don't face the same challenges as women in the workplace. It’s time to reframe the question: anyone would leave a job they hate--why are women nevertheless leaving the jobs they love?
Remember the fact that these are not necessarily answers you want to present during a job interview. In case you are asked during a job interview why you are leaving your current job, a good reason to your interviewer is something benign about the fact that you're looking for a position to challenge you more than your previous employer, or a common answer may be that your prospective employer offers exciting new growth opportunities and a bright company future. However, while those are incredible answers for a job interview, there are factually many motives women leave jobs they love that are disturbing and true, even if they are not necessarily a reason for leave that should be discussed during the job interview (just as you might find a way to rephrase being fired, you can find a diplomatic way of explaining the reasons below).
Bumping Against the Glass Ceiling
It would be nice to have the ability to say that women are leaving because there’s nowhere to go when you’ve reached the top of the career ladder, but really, women are hitting the glass ceiling as early as their first promotion to manager. In a professional world, in which advocating for yourself can imply that a woman is labeled “bossy” or “aggressive,” women receive fewer promotions, resulting in fewer raises, less opportunity to interact with senior management on a peer level, and reduced chance for personal career development. Even if a woman enjoys the work she is doing, there is a limit to the effort that she is going to put into an employer that isn’t, in turn, investing in her strengths and abilities.
Inadequate Maternity Benefits
Granted, not all women will choose to be mothers, however, for individuals who do, adequate benefits are a major factor in the selection to stay at or leave a job you enjoy. Through a Meetup group, I met a group of about a dozen new moms. I don’t remember meeting even one woman who was, like myself, employed full-time, and most of those who had full-time jobs before having their first child quit their jobs altogether during their FMLA unpaid maternity leave.
The entire idea of FMLA is that a woman’s job and benefits the while she is out of the office for the precious first few weeks of her new baby’s life. But, does it really help that a new mother’s job is there, waiting for her to return, if she can’t afford the unpaid leave in the first place? Work-life balance is often cite as a bigger issue for women but if you have to choose between taking care of your baby's new life and your work, that issue goes way beyond work-life balance and it's not surprising that this is viewed as a Hobbesian choice.
Same Pay for Identical Work
Wage disparity between males and females is another common reason for leaving, a trouble with which generations of women are familiar. In January, Fairygodboss spoke with Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take the Lead and former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, about the critical barriers still limiting women’s success.
During the Q&A session, Feldt received a query about accepting a low salary offer in return for other development opportunities, and her insightful answer could easily be applied to positions where women work despite knowing of existing wage disparity: every 12 months you wait is another year you’re losing income that you can never make up.
As early as the interview process, interviewers may be biased in terms of what they are likely to offer prospective female employees in terms of title and salary. Women need to do extra legwork to figure out whether a prospective employer will offer them a good job and employment on honest terms
Subtle Sexism is Still Sexism
Many women still work in offices or labs in which they look around the room and find that they are the lone woman working in a room full of men. There may be no overt sexism and the male coworkers may be the most supportive group of men in the world, but even while you love your job, it’s hard to spend day-in and day-out with a set of folks who can only empathize with what it’s like to be you. Employers who apprehend this are more likely to retain full-time employees and prevent employee departures from those members of staff who are different than others around them.
In this case, the “leaky pipeline” is a self-fulfilling prophecy, where women leave their professional careers and create an environment where only men remain…thereby creating a situation where more women want to leave their professional careers… Studies have shown that gender diverse workplaces actually improve workplace performance, so it’s in the best interests of any employer to fix the “leaky pipeline” problem. As evidenced by women’s preferences for wage equality, a robust benefits package, and development opportunities, women will stay where they enjoy the work and feel valued by their employer.
A Poisonous Work Environment
Lastly, and with the ickiest of icky, women still leave jobs they love due to the fact that the work environment is poisonous. Understandably, women have every right to leave a workplace where they encounter verbal or sexual harassment.
An open call from WIRED magazine, which requested instances and examples of workplace harassment, yielded almost 100 emailed responses. Young and old, women and men, subtle and blatant—all of these stories collected in one place were stomach turning. On-the-job training about what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior can stem the number of women who quit a job due to a company having a toxic work culture.
While there can be unacceptable behavior at a job that you love or hate, and it’s worth mentioning that while the discussion around the issue of workplace harassment is traditionally binary and white, members of the LGBTQ community and women of color disproportionately experience harassment—and many of the issues discussed in this article.
How can society even begin to address this problem? On March 13, Hulu aired an episode of “The Mindy Project,” entitled (no pun intended) “Mindy Lahiri is a White Man;” wherein, the writers worded the professional woman’s experience accurately and eloquently: “The sad thing is having the ability to help other people and, most of the time, just not doing it. Your life is so carefree, you start wondering why other people just don’t help themselves—because you think life is just as easy for everyone else.”
Keep in mind while you probably shouldn't outright state these motivations for voluntarily leaving your job, you can find ways of conveying how you felt to a hiring manager. You might, for instance, describe a dissatisfaction with the working environment, or a difference of opinion in what constitutes appropriate work behavior.
The key is to recognize that the female experience is inherently different and, for the time being, more difficult. There are many reasons for leaving a job—desire to take on more responsibility, relocation, career change, medical reasons, general dissatisfaction with the working environment—but the fact of the matter is that women have more good reasons to leave their current job. When we start recognizing women’s needs in the workplace, we will start to see retention of women improve.