It’s harder for a woman to reach a senior leadership role than a man, and once they’re there, it’s more likely that they’ll leave, a new study has revealed.
The report from McKinsey & Company found that women leaders are leaving their companies at the highest rate ever and the gap between women and men in senior roles quitting their jobs is the largest it’s ever been since it started tracking these numbers in 2015. Chief, a network to support women executives, found in its December 2022 survey that more than a third of women leaders considered resigning last year.
It’s not that women don’t want to work or hold these roles, it’s that they’re not getting the support they need from employers, to be successful and avoid burnout. Women have long been at a disadvantage in the workplace, between the gender pay gap and lack of affordable child care, and much of that was exacerbated by the challenging work conditions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Lindsay Kaplan, co-founder and chief brand officer of Chief, has felt the burden of being a woman in a leadership role herself. “I had to not just be great at my job, but be this role model for other women in the organization,” said Kaplan, who had to devise a maternity leave policy for the startup where she worked prior to founding Chief, before having her first kid.
Helping support DEI goals
There’s no playbook for women leaders who are doing more with less amid economic turmoil and companies which are struggling to meet diversity, equity and inclusion goals they set in 2020. That’s why Chief launched Chief Enterprise, an offering for businesses looking to invest in their women leaders. Chief’s pilot partners include UnitedHealth Group, Morgan Stanley, One GI and HelloFresh, among others.
In the past, women holding executive positions either paid out of pocket or were reimbursed by HR or DEI departments to join Chief’s network. However, once Chief noticed that multiple people from one company were applying to be a part of its network, the company decided to create Chief Enterprise. It’s designed to meet growing demand from companies that want to progress their gender diversity commitments by engaging, developing and retaining their women executives. It can also help close the gender gap by helping them retaining talent during a time when women are leaving their jobs at the highest rate in the last five years.
“One of our core DEI objectives is to increase the representation of women, and specifically women of color, at the most senior levels of leadership,” said Joy Fitzgerald, chief diversity officer of UnitedHealth Group in a press release. “The relationships built through Chief’s programming help our women employees excel at UnitedHealth Group, and advance the careers of their female peers around the globe.”
Chief’s survey revealed that the one-third of women leaders who have considered resigning, would stay in their jobs if they felt more valued at work. Chief’s mission is to equip women leaders with a network of individuals, who aren’t separated by industry, to discuss their ongoing challenges. Chief offers hyper-curated peer groups, workshops and conversations with business icons, and a vetted global network of over 20,000 leaders in the U.S. and U.K.
“It’s like who is mentoring the mentors,” said Kaplan. “Outside of an exceptionally expensive executive coach, what can you do to deal with your own executive challenges paired with the personal challenges of being a new mom, being a role model to women, and everything else going on in your life.”
When Chief partners with a company, that company’s DEI team shares its goals with Chief. Kaplan said they typically want to take action on their gender diversity targets. They then work together to identify the women leaders who would be a good fit for Chief’s network. The number of members Chief’s Enterprise partners sponsor within a given company ranges from 20 executives to hundreds. Most companies start with a pilot and expand once they see the impact.
“It’s a powerful space for members to meet other powerful women,” said Kaplan. “I think that men enjoyed the trappings of social gatherings at, for example, the country club over golf for decades. We think it’s really important for women to come together as well.”
Once those employees are enrolled and start participating in Chief’s programs, Chief goes back to the company to share the high level insights around engagement and participation rates without identifying any employees. The women meet on Zoom once a month for two hours and often stay in the same cohort as they continue with Chief.
Extra support for women executives is correlated with better performance and productivity. Often companies do value their women leaders and want them to feel supported, but sometimes there aren’t internal solutions, which is where Chief comes in.
HelloFresh has seen so much success that it just renewed its annual subscription.
“There are numerous studies that have shown that the systematic issues have really placed a disproportionate burden on women,” said Kimberly Bedeau, associate director of DEI at HelloFresh. “Folks think just because you were sent to that senior level role that it is fantastic and great. What we know is that those women also need the opportunity to be supported.”
At HelloFresh, 86% of senior leaders have opted in, and of those, 86% have participated so far. By the end of March, the company anticipates getting to 100% participation.
“It’s supporting them as a multi-dimensional human,” said Bedeau. “We know that you could or could not have a family, could or could not be a caregiver. It’s allowing those women to have tools to navigate that.”
She’s found that while everyone opts in for different, personal reasons, those reasons range from wanting an exclusive network, a confidential space, learning new skills, and so on.
More support amid the recent layoffs
Kaplan said it is Chief’s mission to make sure that women leaders stay in power and that they are “given the scaffolding around the ladder they climb” to make sure that they are supported. It’s especially important now as layoffs impact women across industries. For example, studies have found that the recent tech layoffs have disproportionately affected women. Talent management platform Eightfold AI found that women in tech were 65% more likely to be laid off than men.
“Through the layoffs and hiring freezes, the people who are left behind, there is more pressure on them than ever,” said Kaplan. “You have to be investing in your leaders who are there because it is the most strategic thing a company can do for long-term growth.”
The folks who remain might be taking on the job of two other people or managing with even fewer resources, which is why Kaplan believes doubling down on the support is especially important to avoid burnout.
“It’s a critical retention driver for women at this executive level,” said Kaplan.
If that woman is feeling supported, she might feel energized to sponsor a woman’s employee resource group or be a vocal champion for people who are marginalized. However, without that support, there is the opposite effect where she could end up joining the other women who decided to step down from the executive level position.
“Our hope is that more companies realize this is an essential piece of how they’re supporting their leadership team,” said Kaplan. “This isn’t just important for DEI, but an important strategic move to ensure that they are investing in their leaders long term.”