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It is expensive to recruit and then lose women to your competitors. How do you ensure they stay and rise through the ranks, effectively balancing your gender profile as they go? If you don’t truly understand why they leave, nothing changes. If you don’t have a plan and make people accountable, you will fail and fall behind your competitors.

Do you, like many firms, start off with a good proportion of women at entry level, then rather carelessly lose 50% every 5 years? Are you as profligate with other precious resources? Has your focus been on buying in women at the most senior levels in order to hit gender diversity targets?

I have been talking about this since our original research 15 years ago revealed the extent of the waste. The business case has been made repeatedly for having women at every level in the organisation. It is not about being nice and fair. It is about the bottom line, the different thinking, creativity and the increase in profits that come with a more diverse workforce.

Where do the women go?

Why can’t you keep your women and grow them up through the business? Why do they leave you? Where are they now?

Well, they certainly aren’t at home making cupcakes. Most likely they are working for your competitors. They probably left because they did not see a future with you. It may have been a lack of female role models, or the lack of feedback or an unfair raise or bonus, or because their line manager never explored their ambition or built a development plan with them. These are just some of the reasons women give for moving on. We sometimes feel they didn’t give their employer the best chance. They did not communicate their rage. They just left. 

We encourage women to make their ambition and desire for development explicit. Often, they feel let down that no-one took the initiative or encouraged them to stay. So, they just left.

Women lie

The other thing we discovered is that many women do not tell the truth in their exit interview. Most men probably don’t either. If you don’t understand why you haemorrhage women, you are not well equipped to staunch the flow. As an outside consultant, speaking in confidence, I get the real story. Culture plays a big part. Relationships and opportunities account for the rest. If women do not see the signal that this is the place for them, they will leave and never give you the benefit of that insight.

Grow your own

It is much less expensive to hang on to the excellent women you have already appointed than to try and keep backfilling as they fade away. Rather than focus on expensive external hires at executive levels, focus on talent management of your women from the moment they join your company. Grow them up in the business, building loyalty and commitment, by giving them a vision of the possibilities in their careers.

What does it take? 

First, commit to a plan to achieve gender parity at all levels. Most people have it in writing in a policy somewhere. Make it real.

Second, understand when and why you are losing women. What are the variables? Discover where the leaks occur and what needs to change for women to want to stay with you.

Third, invest in coaching and development to ensure women are ready for the next promotion. Women’s ambition may not look exactly like their male counterparts. 

Remember that the organisation was probably designed by and for men. Things may need to change. For more information about the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion, please click here.

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