I highly encourage everyone to think about this. There is a similar correlation to young professionals leaving the office and the nonprofit industry. The lack of perceived value, promotion potential, adaption to new technologies and work styles creates motivation for younger employees to leave.
One of your company's most powerful competitive weapons may at this very moment be cleaning out her desk — or contemplating doing so. Can you afford to let her go?
In researching my forthcoming book, Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down, we found that in the wake of last year's financial crash, high-powered women were more than twice as likely as men — 84 percent compared with 40 percent — to be seriously thinking jumping ship. And when the head and heart are out the door, the rest of the body is sure to follow.
Women are falling victim to two types of attrition: they're being disproportionately let go and they're disproportionately quitting. Yet whether they're jumping or being pushed, figures show that a female exodus is bad for business.
Research conducted by both Catalyst and McKinsey & Company demonstrates that companies with significant numbers of women in management have a much higher return on investment. In addition, a recent study from London Business School shows that when work teams are split 50-50 between men and women, productivity goes up. Gender balance, the research posits, counters groupthink — the tendency of homogenous groups to staunchly defend wrong-headed ideas because everyone in the group thinks the same way.
My favorite study, published last October by CERAM Business School, showed that firms in the CAC 40 (the French equivalent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average) with a high ratio of women in top management showed better resistance to the financial crisis. The fewer female managers a company has, the greater drop in its share price since January 2008.
The facts couldn't be clearer: smart women equal stronger companies.
As we begin to emerge from the global recession, far-seeing firms are building bench strength through programs that provide traction for both their high-performing and high-potential women.
Intel created career development workshops aimed squarely at retaining one of its most at-risk populations: mid-level female engineers. Data collected from exit interviews had revealed that many of these talented technologists were leaving not to spend time with their family but because they no longer felt challenged by or passionate about their work.
In the 21st century, talented people of both sexes often feel stymied by a traditional vertical career path that follows a straight line up a narrow ladder. Rather, they're interested in and open to lateral moves and a variety of "work style" options, such as flex schedules and telecommuting, as long as these options are intellectually and professionally challenging and/or satisfy personal obligations. Unfortunately, if they don't know how to articulate those desires or think they won't be satisfied by their current employer, they'll look elsewhere.
Intel's one-day career workshops encourage participants to identify what work they're truly excited by, as well as the type and quality of work they'd like to do in five, ten and fifteen years. They then practice how to effectively discuss their aspirations with their direct managers, who are also being taught to address the unique needs of mid-level female technologies. "For us, brain share is critical in up and down economies," says Rosalind L. Hudnell, corporate director of diversity. "We're just focused on retaining key talent in these tough times."
An increasing number of companies are teaching their high-potential women to think strategically about their careers — and encouraging their managers to support them.
Johnson & Johnson's program, called "Crossing the Finish Line," aims to provide multicultural director-level women with knowledge, skills and strategies to strengthen their abilities and further their careers, while enhancing their supervisors' ability to create and manage an environment that leverages diversity.
"This is not a remedial program," emphasizes JoAnn Heffernan Heisen, former chief diversity officer. "It's a career acceleration program because they are already recognized as high-potential talent." The four-day seminar has been so successful that a spin-off version now targets multicultural men.
Even firms in the troubled financial sector recognize the need to nurture this neglected resource. UBS recently launched two new programs aimed at supporting female officers. "Connecting with Clients in Turbulent Times" is tailored to the bank's client-facing women who want to take their revenue-generation skills to the next level. "Charting Your Future" is a career-counseling workshop customized for high-powered women in Asia.
"The message from management is that the bank cares," explains Mona Lau, global head of diversity and campus recruiting. "We want you to stay."
Download this success story to learn more about Intel's career development workshop.