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Why Women Leave Leadership Roles (and What to Do About It)
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Talent Acquisition

Why Women Leave Leadership Roles (and What to Do About It)

One Minute Takeaway

  • Women are leaving leadership roles at an unprecedented rate. They aren’t quitting work altogether, but rather seeking leadership positions with companies that offer advancement opportunities and flexibility.
  • Some common challenges women face that lead to their decision to leave include gender bias and discrimination, poor work/life balance, lack of support, and a bad workplace culture.
  • By tailoring leadership development programs to address the specific needs and challenges faced by women leaders, organizations can create an environment that supports their growth, retention, and empowerment.

Women are leaving leadership positions in unprecedented numbers. According to the most recent Women in the Workplace study (McKinsey and LeanIn.org) around 10.5% of female leaders in senior management positions and above, voluntarily left their company in 2021 as compared with 9% of male leaders. And for every woman at a director level who got promoted, two women directors quit their company. It’s the highest rate of departures since McKinsey started collecting this type of data.

So, why are so many women leaders leaving? Researchers say employees across the board are reassessing what they want from their careers post-pandemic, and more women (including leaders) are prioritizing well-being and flexibility. And they aren’t afraid to leave a job that isn’t providing the work culture and advancement opportunities they want. Loyalty has its limits, and more than ever before, women want to work at companies that offer support and will allow them to grow and thrive.

Why Do Women Leave Leadership Positions?

While everyone has their own experience and stories, there are some common challenges women face in the workplace that can contribute to them leaving a leadership position.

  • Work-life balance: Many women face challenges in balancing their professional and personal lives, especially when they have caregiving responsibilities. Recent Gallup research shows women working in the U.S. are among the most stressed groups of employees globally. The lack of flexibility in leadership roles and demanding schedules can make it difficult to manage work and family obligations.
  • Gender bias and discrimination: Women often face biases and discrimination in the workplace, including lower salaries, limited opportunities for growth, and a lack of recognition for their contributions. These biases can make it difficult for women to advance in their careers and may play a part in their decision to leave a particular leadership role.
  • Organizational culture and lack of support: The workplace environment can significantly impact women’s experiences in leadership roles. If there is a lack of support, inclusivity, and respect for diversity, women may feel isolated, undervalued, or face microaggressions and outright hostility.
  • Limited advancement opportunities: Women may face a glass ceiling that prevents them from advancing to higher-level leadership positions. This can be due to a lack of mentorship, sponsorship, or networking opportunities, as well as unconscious biases that favor men in leadership roles.
  • Lack of representation: The absence of women in leadership positions and the lack of role models can discourage women from aspiring to and remaining in leadership roles. Without visible representation, it can be difficult for women to envision themselves succeeding in these positions.

Addressing these challenges in the workplace requires a comprehensive approach that includes promoting diversity and inclusion, providing mentorship and sponsorship opportunities, ensuring pay equity, fostering work-life balance, and creating an inclusive organizational culture.

Which Industries Are More Likely to Lose Women Leaders?

While challenges for women in leadership roles can be found across various sectors, some industries have been historically known to have lower representation and higher attrition rates. These include:

  • Technology and Engineering: There is a gender imbalance, with a significant underrepresentation of women in leadership roles due to factors such as gender bias, a lack of mentorship, and a male-dominated culture.
  • Finance and Banking: Barriers such as unconscious bias, long work hours, limited flexibility, and a lack of work-life balance initiatives can contribute to women leaving these leadership positions.
  • Professional Services: Professional services firms, including consulting and law firms, have seen challenges in retaining women in leadership roles because of long work hours, demanding client expectations, lack of work-life balance, and limited opportunities for career advancement.
  • Healthcare and Medicine: While healthcare and medicine have a higher representation of women overall, there can still be challenges in retaining women in senior leadership roles. Factors such as gender bias, limited advancement opportunities, and work-life balance challenges can lead women to leave these positions.

It’s important to note that these industry trends can vary, and there are organizations within these sectors that are actively working to address these issues and create more inclusive environments for women in leadership.

10 Strategies to Help Empower Women Leaders at Work

There are some procedures and policies an organization can implement to support and promote women leaders, including:

  1. Gender-Specific Leadership Training: Offer leadership training programs that specifically address the unique challenges and barriers faced by women in leadership positions. Focus on topics such as overcoming gender bias, building confidence, developing assertiveness, and effective communication strategies.
  2. Mentoring and Sponsorship Programs: Establish formal mentoring and sponsorship programs that connect women leaders with experienced mentors or sponsors within the organization. These programs can provide guidance, support, and opportunities for career advancement.
  3. Networking Opportunities: Create networking opportunities, both within the organization and externally, specifically designed to connect women leaders with peers, industry professionals, and potential mentors. Encourage participation in women’s leadership conferences, industry events, and professional organizations.
  4. Flexible Development Opportunities: Provide flexible leadership development opportunities that accommodate the unique needs and circumstances of women leaders. This may include offering virtual or remote learning options, accommodating different learning styles, and providing access to resources that can be accessed at any time. (Pro tip: Paycor’s Learning Management System does exactly that!)
  5. Addressing Implicit Bias: Include training on unconscious bias and its impact on gender diversity in leadership. Help leaders recognize and challenge their own biases and provide tools to create inclusive and equitable environments.
  6. Promote Work-Life Balance: Incorporate work-life balance strategies into leadership development programs, emphasizing the importance of self-care, setting boundaries, and managing competing priorities. Provide resources and tools for managing work and personal responsibilities effectively.
  7. Visibility and Recognition: Ensure that women leaders are given visibility and recognition for their accomplishments and contributions. Highlight their achievements through internal communications, leadership spotlights, and inclusion in high-profile projects or initiatives.
  8. Sponsorship for Advancement: Identify potential sponsors within the organization who can advocate for women leaders and actively support their career advancement. Encourage sponsors to provide opportunities for visibility, stretch assignments, and access to influential networks.
  9. Evaluation and Feedback: Implement fair and transparent performance evaluation processes that provide constructive feedback and growth opportunities for women leaders. Ensure that evaluations are based on objective criteria and free from gender bias.
  10. Accountability and Measurement: Establish accountability mechanisms to track the progress of leadership development programs and measure the impact on supporting and empowering women leaders. Regularly review and assess the effectiveness of these programs and make necessary adjustments.

By tailoring leadership development programs to address the specific needs and challenges faced by women leaders, organizations can create an environment that supports their growth, retention, and empowerment.

How Paycor Helps

With Paycor, you can leverage the power of data-driven insights to create an inclusive workplace where women leaders thrive. Discover how our solutions can support your journey toward gender equity and retention.

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