Companies are losing women leaders at high rates, study finds
They're calling it the "Great Breakup." Women leaders, already in short supply at most U.S. companies, were more likely than men to switch jobs in 2021, according to a closely watched new report released Tuesday.
Why it matters: A better job market and more opportunities for flexible work arrangements made women less likely to put up with mistreatment in the workplace last year, say the authors of the report, from McKinsey and LeanIn.org, the women's empowerment group founded by former Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg.
- "Women are not breaking up with work. They're breaking up with their companies," says Rachel Thomas, CEO of LeanIn.org.
- "We're finally seeing the moment where women in leadership are voting with their feet," said Alexis Krivkovich, a managing partner at McKinsey and cofounding author of the report. This is a "profound change," she said.
By the numbers: An eye-popping 10.5% of women leaders — from senior managers all the way up to the C-suite — quit their jobs over the past year, the highest rate in the five years that McKinsey/LeanIn.org has surveyed companies about attrition rates. The rate for men was 9%.
- Typically, attrition rates for men and women run closer together, with a spread of only around half a point.
State of play: The report draws attention to the "broken rung" concept as a problem area for companies — that's the gap in the share of women elevated into management relative to men.
- For every 100 men promoted out of entry-level positions, only 87 women and 82 women of color got the same lift up the ladder.
- "You're losing women coming into management, and the precious few women leaders you do have are choosing to leave, as well. That's a double whammy," says Thomas.
Between the lines: Women are just as ambitious as men. Black women leaders even more so — 59% said they want to be top executives, compared to 41% of women of color and 27% of white women.
The problem: Women's authority at work is undermined in a variety of ways — so they leave, the report finds. For example:
- 37% of women leaders said they've had a co-worker get credit for their idea, compared to 27% of men.
- Women leaders are twice as likely to be mistaken for someone more junior.
- Asian women and Black women said they're less likely to have strong allies on their teams.
- Women are also more likely to do work to support co-workers and promote diversity, equity and inclusion — but that type of work doesn't typically get recognized when it comes time to evaluate performance.
- Black women leaders are 1.5 times as likely as women overall to have colleagues question their judgment or imply they're unqualified for their jobs.
Methodology: For the report, which focuses mostly on white-collar workers, the researchers looked at 333 companies in the U.S. and Canada, which submitted data on promotions and attrition.
- They also surveyed more than 40,000 employees from 55 companies on their experiences at work, and conducted one-on-one interviews with women and nonbinary employees.
The bottom line: This report adds more evidence to dispel the notion that women dropped out of the workforce or "leaned out" because of the pressures of the pandemic.
- Instead, it serves as a warning to companies that if they want to live their diversity goals, they need to focus on retaining talent.