Why Are Women Leaders Leaving Companies Now More Than Ever?

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

It’s being called “The Great Breakup.”

Lean In and McKinsey & Co.’s “Women in the Workplace” report finds that women leaders are leaving their companies at a record rate. Roughly 10.5% of female leaders at the senior management level or above left their companies in 2021, the highest rate since 2017, when McKinsey began collecting data on the subject. 

The implications of this trend extend far beyond a lack of representation at the top. Without these women leaders at businesses, organizations have trouble demonstrating a real commitment to gender diversity and bringing in new female talent. And brand reputations weaken with a dearth of female representation.

It’s clear that businesses across industries need to do more. So, how can we better understand why this is happening? And what can be done about it?

Why are women leaders leaving their employers?

1. There is a lack of recognition of women’s contributions to their organizations.

Negative work cultures and microaggressions play an enormous role in these departures. According to the LeanIn/McKinsey research, women leaders are two times as likely as men to be mistaken for someone at a more junior level. The report also finds that they are more likely than men to have a coworker receive credit for their own ideas and contributions.

This lack of recognition — and often outright ignorance of their important contributions — understandably causes many women leaders to feel undervalued and underappreciated. And when this is happening routinely, it’s enough to make a leader — or anyone at any level — believe that they are not being seen or heard.

2. There is pervasive burnout.

Forty-three percent of women leaders say they’re burned out, compared with just 31% of men. This is partly due to the fact that far more women than men were tasked with primary caregiving responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. But women without caregiving responsibilities are experiencing high levels of burnout, too.

And while many companies say they are prioritizing employee well-being, not enough work is being done in this area — driving many women leaders (and others) to quit.

3. There are better opportunities elsewhere.

“Let’s be clear: Women aren’t saying they don’t want to work,” Lareina Yee, a senior partner at McKinsey & Co., explained to CNBC Make It. “They’re breaking up with companies because they’re confident they will get an opportunity to advance somewhere else, which is something we haven’t seen before.”

What can employers do to retain women leaders?

If there is a silver lining, it’s this: women leaders are not putting up with employers who don’t respect and value them as they deserve and go elsewhere to companies that will. 

For organizations across sectors, this means putting more effort into understanding the needs of their female leadership and committing to supporting women at all levels. In order to address this pervasive problem, employers will need to take a multipronged approach to retaining talent across diverse groups. Some ideas include:

• Asking employees what they want in terms of benefits, programs and more.

• Prioritizing wellness initiatives.

• Taking a hard look at promotion and pay policies and ensuring they are fair and equitable — and that the same benchmarks and assessments are used for people of all genders and backgrounds.

• Providing and receiving ample feedback, not just during performance reviews.

This is what will ultimately move the needle on gender representation at businesses of all types.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is an editor and writer based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab-mix Hercules. She primarily focuses on education, technology and career development. She has worked with Penguin Random House, Fairygodboss, CollegeVine, BairesDev and many other publications and organizations. Her humor writing has appeared in the Belladonna, Weekly Humorist, Slackjaw, Little Old Lady Comedy, and Points in Case. She also writes fiction and essays, which have appeared in publications including The Memoirist and The Avalon Literary Review. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.

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