March is officially the start of International Women’s Month.
But as our latest episode goes live today — do women really have something to celebrate?
Considering the uphill battle women face in their personal and professional lives?
And considering how gender equity in the workplace seems to be backsliding?
In fact, according to LeanIn.Org & McKinsey’s 2022 Women in the Workplace Report, for every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company.
We don’t just lose ideas, perspectives and talent when women leaders leave — we also lose our best advocates for equity and inclusion.
With that in mind, Inclusion in Progress takes a look at The Great Breakup, the consequences of women leaving the workforce en masse, and how to keep progress on gender equity moving forward by working to retain women on your teams.
Welcome to the Inclusion in Progress podcast where we give you the ideas, actions and insights to help you build more equity at your workplace and in the world at large. I'm your host, Kay Fabella, international expert on diversity, equity and inclusion, a Filipina American living in Spain and your guide in navigating this DEI journey. Having worked with teams at companies such as Philips, the IMF, Red Hat, PepsiCo and more, I know firsthand that the work of inclusion only works when everyone has a seat at the table. Regardless of your personal entrypoint into this conversation: your race, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, sexual orientation, country of origin, or educational background, we all have a role to play in creating inclusion for all and it starts with us having conversations we need to create the change we wish to see. So let's dive into today's episode.
As this episode comes out in March 2023, we are beginning the official kick-off of International Women's Month. But as this episode comes out, do women really have something to celebrate, considering how almost every indicator shows us that gender equity in the workplace looks like it is backsliding?
I'm Kay Fabella and I'm a DEI consultant for remote teams. And, of course, your host of the Inclusion in Progress podcast, where you'll get research-backed industry insights into the future of work and practical How To’s for Equity and Inclusion. I also lead a remote team and work with clients across EMEA, APAC and the Americas, which means you'll get a global perspective on how companies are supporting their distributed teams, building workplaces that work for everyone.
In this episode of Inclusion in Progress, we'll be discussing what it is that we lose when women leave the workforce, and how we can fix that pipeline in our post-pandemic landscape. So, if you've been listening to the podcast for a while and you like what we're throwing down, make sure you follow us on your favorite podcast app, whether that's iTunes or Spotify or Deezer, and leave us a review because it really does help get this content in front of other equity-minded leaders in the workplace like you!
Now, if you've been listening to the podcast for a while, you'll know that I'm originally from the United States, as you can tell by my accent. But my parents are from the Philippines, and I now call Madrid, Spain home. I've actually been living in Spain for going on my 13th year now. Which means that I often see the world and the news that I consume through multiple lenses. I'll do one of those, kind of, quick scans whenever I'm on a lunch break to see what's happening in the world - whether it's in Spanish, or back in the US and the different parts of the US that I have family and friends, as well as, of course, other parts of the world where our client partners and colleagues are. But, like many immigrants – and if that's you listening, shout out, I see you! – the idea of home, or what we call home, or what feels like home seems to slowly shift the longer that I'm away from the place that I was born.
Now, despite loving where I come from, it seems – these days anyway – that there's rarely good news about historically excluded groups in headlines in the US. With bills targeting LGBTQ rights, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and consistent anti-immigrant legislation, not to mention racially-motivated attacks and shootings; there are very few colleagues that we know within DEI or diversity, equity and inclusion that aren't passing the so-called “trauma hot potato” amongst ourselves.
So, it was really encouraging when as we were preparing this episode, I woke up to some good news in my adopted country of Spain – and that was in February of 2023.
Like many countries in the developed world – poking the United States here – Spain is a country that already offers paid maternity and paternity leave. But last month, they went even further. The Spanish parliament approved legislation expanding abortion and transgender rights for teenagers, while making Spain the first country in Europe that will entitle workers to paid menstrual leave. And, I don't know about you all, but with good news feeling harder to come by in the gender equity conversation, this felt like a nice change of pace… I maybe did a fist bump or two.
Spain is just one example of what's possible if we have more legislation that is designed by women with women in mind. And this will, of course, trickle down to our workplace as well. Not every woman, realistically, has access to legal protections or services like the ones passed in Spain, my birth country included. And it's why we are not surprised that we're witnessing women leaving the workforce in mass post-pandemic. And, on behalf of Team IIP, we honor women asking for more than what they've received the last few years. We've seen how women are more likely to have a higher likelihood of household and caregiving duties on top of their full-time jobs. Because let's face it, household and caregiving duties are also full-time jobs. They're also more likely to deal with increased cost of living, increased likelihood of burnout, and, unfortunately, persistent bias both within and outside of the workplace. So it's little wonder that women professionals are leading this so-called “Great Breakup” with their employers.
And because, you know, we're all about the “Yes… And” here on Inclusion in Progress, we also know that it's not entirely the employer's fault. Challenges that affect women go beyond the workplace. Women are shaped not just by their employers, but also by the political and economic and social decisions of others. And, unfortunately, a lot of those decisions are often made by a gender that won't necessarily have to pay the consequences. But what is under an employer's control is to continue to intentionally design inclusive practices, policies, and protocols that support women's advancement at work, rather than making them have to choose between a livelihood and having a life.
We haven't come this far on gender equity at work to only come this far. And companies lose more than talented people when women leave the workforce. You lose your ability to innovate without the perspectives that women bring to the table, you lose some of your best mentors, sponsors, and advocates for underrepresented talent at work; and you will also erode any progress you might have made on DEI, and lose the ability to attract professionals on the other side of a recessive period – all of those people who will be on the lookout for women's representation in your manager or leadership positions.
With this in mind, let's take a look at The Great Breakup, what it is, what are the consequences of women leaving the workforce, and how to keep progress on gender equity moving forward despite the uncertain economic landscape and, according to some anyway, the recessive period that we're navigating.
So let's go ahead and dive in.
According to the 2022 Women in the Workplace Report that was a collaboration between LeanIn.Org and McKinsey, this Great Breakup is being led by women leaders who are ”demanding more from work and are more likely to switch jobs to get their needs met.” Looking at that data, it's not hard to see why. Women are more likely than men to leave their jobs due to burnout, they're more likely to lack opportunities for growth and development, and they're more likely to have insufficient support from their managers. Women are also more likely to consider leaving their jobs if they experience discrimination or bias. And, sadly, studies show that many women still face this in both in-office and remote work environments.
For those of us on Team IIP, The Great Breakup is a sign that women are looking for a different culture at work, that they're expecting more support from their employers as they teeter on burnout or worse post-pandemic, and that they're willing to move on to a place where they know that their contributions will be valued and they can advance their careers in a way that supports the lives they want to live.
So why are women choosing to break up with their employers in spite of the economic uncertainty that we're facing?
Well, for starters, despite the advancements that organizations have made since COVID-19 hit in 2020, on offering flexible work and flexible work arrangements, women are still more likely to face headwinds such as microaggressions and bias and discrimination. This same report from LeanIn[.Org] and McKinsey found that 37% of women leaders have reported having a co-worker get credit for their idea, compared to 27% of men leaders.
When we look at how microaggressions break down across different women's identities, Latinas and Black women are less likely than women of other races and ethnicities to report their manager supports their career development. They also experience less psychological safety. For example, less than half of Latinas and Black women say people on their team aren't penalized for mistakes. Asian women and Black women are less likely to have strong allies on their teams, and they're less likely than white women to have senior colleagues advocate for their pay increase or praise their skills. When it comes to LGBTQ women and women with disabilities, compared with women overall, they're also more likely to have colleagues comment on their appearance, tell them that they “look mad” or “should smile more.” And women with disabilities often have their competence challenged and undermined.
Keep in mind that this data is obviously very US-centric and US-focused. I'm the first person to tell you that it is always going to be a challenge to gather data outside of my birth country, but we'll be sure to link to the full report in the show notes so that you can take a look yourself.
So with all this in mind, it's little wonder that women continue to prefer flexible work options. It allows them to engage with their workloads and responsibilities without having to worry about mistreatment or microaggressions that they've been exposed to in shared physical workspaces. According to the same report, only 1 in 10 women wants to work mostly onsite. And many women point to remote and hybrid work options as one of their top reasons for joining or staying with an organization.
Now, when it comes to working in a distributed environment, specifically – which we define as hybrid, remote, fully in-office, and everything in between – women leaders are more likely to report that personal characteristics, such as gender, or parenthood, have played a direct role in them being passed over for a raise or promotion. Many women continue to prioritize flexible working arrangements because it allows them to also support their non-work responsibilities, which increases the likelihood that their in-office counterparts will benefit from career advancement opportunities that favor presenteeism.
In 2022, less women than men were promoted into management positions. For every 100 men who are prompted from entry level to manager, only 87 are promoted. And that number is only 82 for women of color. For every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, 2 women directors are choosing to leave their company. Not only that, but studies also demonstrate that women leaders more broadly are twice as likely as men to spend a significant amount of time leading DEI initiatives in the workplace, whether it's actually their official job title or not.
Now we know that companies have been touting the importance of an inclusive workplace and how they would like to see diversity outcomes – such as women's representation in leadership – increase. Women are by and large listening to that and stepping up to that challenge in the form of things like participating in ERGs, or Employee Resource Groups, and signing up for gender equity initiatives. For women who have made it to leadership positions, many of them take on sponsoring and mentoring junior professionals on top of their existing workloads, because many are eager to share their experience, having navigated biases and barriers to get to where they were. But according to the same report from LeanIn[.Org] and McKinsey, 40% of women leaders say that their DEI work isn't acknowledged at all in their performance reviews.
Now, it's little wonder that women leaders are either considering leaving their employers or leaving the workforce altogether to put their leadership skills to better use elsewhere, whether as an independent consultant or starting their own business. But this also comes at a huge cost to employers that will have an exponential impact long after a recessive period ends. If workplaces don't work harder now to retain the few women leaders that they have managed to promote, they'd lose out on revenue. When the women leaders who have contributed their best ideas and steered the growth of their organization leave, they'll lose out on productivity. When women are forced to take on additional responsibilities at home or outside of work or even within their workplace without adequate support from employers, which would also affect their decision to stay, they'd also lose out on progress made on diversity and inclusion. Because we know that when women leave the workplace, it means they're less likely to mentor and sponsor underrepresented professionals as future leaders. Future talent will be less likely to view an organization as a supportive and inclusive place to work. And these leaders and professionals will be less likely to recommend the company to other women.
Now I know that paints a very bleak picture. But despite everything that we've shared in this episode, the pipeline for women leaders isn't unfixable. Thankfully, the solutions to support women remaining in leadership positions are things that employers already have at their disposal, things that – if you have been investing in diversity, equity and inclusion, since it took center stage in 2020 – that you can continue to build upon.
First off, organizations must continue to leverage DEI initiatives and training to achieve wider awareness of any barriers there might be to gender equity at work so that everyone, regardless of gender, in the organization continues to be held accountable to creating a more equitable and inclusive environment that benefits productivity, engagement and morale. These can include things like mentorship or reverse mentoring programs, as well as sponsorship, bias training, and leadership development programs aimed at women. Being a manager that takes interest in the career progression and general workload of your women colleagues in the workplace is already a huge form of allyship. Research shows that when women have someone advocating for them, whether through a formal program or even just somebody in their corner in the workplace, it's more likely that they will move up the career ladder and pave the way for others to follow.
Secondly, employers should continue to lean into flexible work that supports women's work-life integration, rather than strong-arming men, women, and everyone in between back into the office. (Cough, cough) Looking at you, Elon Musk!
We know that women who can choose to work in the arrangement that they prefer, whether fully remote or onsite or somewhere in the middle, are less burnt out. They're happier in their jobs. And surprise, surprise, they're much less likely to consider leaving their companies. And when it comes to designing for women with disabilities, working at home is actually healthier and more productive for them, because it allows them to manage their environment to support things like mobility issues, or chronic pain, or mental health, which allows them to do their job more effectively. Not only is doubling down on flexible work promises that you've been making during this pandemic more likely to appeal to and retain your women leaders, it also encourages that they can continue to perform at their best so that you continue to support their career advancement at work. And that means they're also more likely to share their positive experiences at your organization with other women, both within and outside the company.
It's important to remember that women aren't just roughly half of the global population. As a group, they encapsulate so many different identities that they can significantly represent and champion in the workplace. So investing in women means that you're more likely to create the representation that you want to see for your organization to match the world that already exists outside its doors.
Finally, an employer looking to keep their women leaders on board should be mindful of virtual performance bias, specifically when it comes to designing inclusive distributed work that centers gender equity. Now, we've discussed virtual performance bias before in Episode 96 on The 3 Hidden Biases of Hybrid Work (& How to Avoid Them), so you should check that out when you get a chance. But suffice it to say that virtual performance bias affects how we perceive whether someone is working hard or doing their job effectively, because it's often influenced by the tech platforms that we're using to stay connected to one another while we're working in a distributed environment. For example, some remote workers are happy to remain online on Slack or Teams, whereas others may prefer to simply turn off notifications after a certain hour, which is no reflection on how hard they may or may not be working. So being aware of and solving for hidden biases that can show up in a distributed workplace will remove perceptions around performance that may hinder women leaders from advancing their careers at your organization.
Ultimately, investing in women doesn't just benefit one gender, it benefits all of us. And it's in our best interest to keep the women that we do have, fix the pipeline, and make sure that the leaders that stay today will continue to open doors for those to come tomorrow to continue to have your teams at their best.
So there you have it, The Great Breakup, what it is and why it's happening, and what we lose when women leave the workforce, and ways that you can fix the pipeline and continue to retain and attract future women talent in a post-pandemic world.
Now, at Inclusion in Progress, we've always recognized the need to investigate barriers to psychological safety at the Individual, Behavioral, and Organizational levels while navigating the reality of our post-pandemic distributed world because we know that identifying how to remove those barriers allows organizations to create a sustainable work culture where employees, regardless of gender or identity, contribute their best ideas without fear of judgment, without fear of exclusion; ensuring an engaged, productive, and equitable work environment, no matter where employees choose to work from.
We also know, because we've been on the front lines, that the last few years have been challenging for every organization to navigate. And it's important to provide resources that set you and your teams today and tomorrow up for success. To that end, we have released our 2023 Whitepaper on the Future of Work Culture: How to Make Distributed Work Inclusive. You can download a copy on our website and inclusioninprogress.com/learn or you can head to the link in the show notes of this episode to grab your copy.
And if you'd like to learn how we can support you, and how we're supporting other client partners with creating inclusive distributed work strategies in 2023 that will help you increase psychological safety and morale for your current and future teams, you can email us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a free, no pressure consultation call with one of our team.
As always, a huge thank you for listening. Thank you for sharing these episodes with others. And, on behalf of a woman owned business, we'll see you next time on Inclusion in Progress!