Equity, Transparency, and Leadership Engagement Are Keys to Retaining Women (i4cp login required)


According to newly released data
from the U.S. Census Bureau,
between March and April of 2020, “3.5 million
mothers with school-age children left active work—either shifting into paid or
unpaid leave, losing their jobs, or exiting the labor market all together.” As
of February 2021, nearly 1.5 million fewer moms of school-aged children were
actively working than in the previous year. And as the Wall
Street Journal
reported this week, “during the depths of last year’s
economic crisis, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show, women’s participation in
the workforce fell to levels not seen since the mid-1980s.”

As we
noted in March of this year
, while many organizations are taking steps to
alleviate the disparate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in their
workforces, a recent
survey by the Institute of Corporate Productivity (i4cp)
 found that
among larger employers, the number of those taking action (42%) is nearly equal
to those organizations that are not (40%).

Of the 400 professionals who participated in the survey
exploring what employers are doing (if anything) to address issues that may
contribute to women leaving their organizations, 256 represented large
organizations (those with 1,000+ employees). An interesting note: The majority
of those from larger organizations told us that the percentage of women in senior-most
leadership roles in their companies is hovering at between 25-49%. Only 5%
reported that their organizations had reached 50% representation or more.

While we obviously can’t claim causation here, we found by
looking more closely at the data that organizations with more women at the top
of the house are more likely to take action to address issues and stressors that
prompt women to exit the workforce.

Direct leadership involvement is by far the most popular

The top strategies survey participants reported are
currently in place or about to be implemented in their companies to address
issues that lead to women leaving the workforce are:

  • 82% Involving leaders in mentoring/coaching
  • 77% Offering focused career development for
  • 71% Auditing for and addressing promotional
  • 69% Ensuring that data-driven gender equity
    education is included in all DEI training
  • 68% Auditing for and addressing gender pay

Involving leaders in the coaching and mentoring of women has
long been a prescribed strategy for developing women, supporting their career
development, and enhancing retention, but there needs to be purposeful emphasis
on intersectionality as well—coaching and mentoring of women of color, LGBTQ+,
and others from underrepresented groups.

Why is the inclusion of data-driven gender equity education
in diversity, equity, and inclusion training important, moreover, why are so
many organizations ensuring this? Because despite all the research that has
been published on this issue, gender pay equity remains a complex, hot button
topic that requires thoughtful consideration, critical thinking, and context.
Leading with data and objectivity is a sound strategy for those who seek to
better understand the situation, how we got here, and what can be done to drive

Preventative actions that may be on the horizon

The top five strategies that aren’t in place but are currently
under consideration to implement as means to address
issues that often lead to women leaving the workforce

  • 23% Making diversity, equity, and inclusion data
    publicly available
  • 22% Offering focused career development specifically
    for women of color
  • 22% Providing student loan debt relief
  • 19% Offering focused career development specifically
    for single mothers
  • 17% Partnering with colleges and universities to develop
    relationships with student women’s groups
  • 17% Partnering with colleges and universities to
    develop relationships with student women’s groups

keeping women in the workplace

Taking decisive steps to formulate
retention strategies for specific cohorts comes in many forms based on the
issues and needs identified for an organization:

“We are at the beginning stage of a strategic approach to
reducing attrition of women. We’ve developed a DE&I Index and are conducting
women’s focus groups to better understand the needs,” one participant

Another noted that their organization is actively recruiting
women into leadership positions and providing women with high-profile
assignments and opportunities that position them for recognition on a global

Others mentioned renewed investment and attention to opportunities
for portfolio and collaboration projects, frequent check-in conversations,
coaching, mentoring, and opportunities for movement within the organization—actions
that require consistent planning and intention but are well worth it.

As one survey participant: “Offering flexible work
environment (flex time/remote working) as well as ongoing conversations and
support between managers/employees to understand employees’ challenges has been
simple yet very effective.”

Lorrie Lykins is i4cp’s
Vice President of Research

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