The reasons Corporate America should develop, retain, and advance women are clear. Leaders who make gender diversity a priority recognize the value of their prize – a talent advantage over competitors that do not retain female employees. But few companies are actually winning that prize. The trend of young women burning out and leaving the workplace by the age of 30 is still distressingly common. Although only 11% of women choose to actually leave the workplace to have children, the top tiers of corporate America remain stubbornly male.
A study by McKinsey & Company shows that women account for 53% of corporate entry-level jobs, but hold only 37% of mid-management roles. That number drops to 26% for vice presidents and senior managers, and other reports say it’s even lower in the C-suite. There’s still major gender disparity the higher you look up the corporate ladder.
The study finds that women are entering the work force in large numbers – more than 325,000 have entry level positions at the 60 companies surveyed – but in aggregate, they are still not rising to the top. Many women serve their whole careers instaff roles, get stuck in middle management, or leave their organization, perhaps despairing that the company will address their concerns.
The million-dollar question is,“Why are women dropping out?” A recent article in FastCompany.com suggests this gap can be traced to high demands that companies place on their employees in today’s always-connected work environments. It’s clear that some of those expectations can also be self imposed by the women themselves.
FastCompany spoke with Jenny Blake, who was thriving when she began her career at Google. But then she started to burn the candle at both ends. She says, “We are in unprecedented times in terms of the global, always-on organization. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline not to check email at night or first thing in the morning, and not all office cultures (or managers) endorse or demonstrate that restraint themselves. Work comes in at all hours, and it can be hard to create boundaries that keep it contained and allow for proper rest and renewal. For younger women in particular, it can be hard to say no, especially in competitive jobs or industries where there would be a (perceived) line out the door for their replacement.”
We all need to help young women entering the workplace excel, and management needs to provide an open and flexible path to leadership with an environment that supports them. In an age when work-life balance is seen as a key to health and workplace satisfaction for women and men alike, we need to help them find a work life balance, respect after-hours boundaries, provide them freedom to “unplug” and work with them when they have concerns. These measures will provide a win-win situation and will appeal to – and help retain – the young women who are burning out and opting out.
While it would help if companies would support their women professionals, the area of greatest opportunity lies within women’s own actions. My Leading Women co-author Gloria Feldt argues that from the boardroom to the bedroom, public office to personal relationships, the major factor keeping women from parity is themselves. In response to barriers – both real and self imposed – many women are opting out of the very career paths that could bring gender parity to those highest clout positions within a decade or two.
Through her desire to see women take the lead, and reach full parity, Gloria launched Take The Lead Women to prepare, develop, inspire, and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025. Take The Lead teaches women 9 power tools they can use to change systems and create workplace cultures that are healthier for both men and women. The organization also teaches women how to use movement-building principles to overcome implicit biases, and create sustainable change.
Gender parity in leadership matters, and benefits everyone. We must all work together and take active steps to create a workplace where young women don’t feel overwhelmed and can see their path ahead. When we recognize and support the full potential of women, we’ve taken the first step toward equality and the positive outcomes that contribute to both personal and corporate success. It is time to lead. By working together, we can push the doors to equal opportunity wide open, so our sisters can take their rightful seats at the table.