HomeLearning CenterWhen Women Leave Leadership, Address Root Causes Instead of Symptoms

When Women Leave Leadership, Address Root Causes Instead of Symptoms

Female leaders at the senior level and above are switching jobs at the highest rate ever seen—and at a higher rate than men in leadership, according to McKinsey & Co.’s Women in the Workplace 2022 report.

The report’s findings are from a survey of more than 40,000 employees at 333 organizations and interviews with women of a variety of identities.

Retaining female leaders requires organizations to address the real reasons—not the myths—underpinning women’s decisions to leave or opt out of leadership roles, according to Mira Brancu, author of Millennials’ Guide to Workplace Politics: What No One Ever Told You About Power and Influence (Winding Pathway Books, 2021).

Citing the McKinsey research, Brancu noted that for every female director who is promoted to the next level, two female directors are choosing to leave their companies.

Brancu, a consulting psychologist and CEO and founder of consultancy Brancu & Associates in Carrboro, N.C., shared some common misperceptions about why a woman may choose to leave a leadership role:

  • She lacks the ambition to be a leader.
  • She is juggling too much with children at home.
  • She isn’t negotiating for new roles.
  • She doesn’t have the right leadership skills.
  • She isn’t interested in being a leader (anymore).
  • She lacks confidence.

What these myths have in common, she said, is the message that “the problem is within the woman and therefore we need interventions to fix her … instead of [addressing] the root cause.”

What organizations often do, she said, is:

  • Send the female leader to one-size-fits-all training or place her in a “fix her” model.
  • Over-mentor and under-sponsor her by offering “get along” advice versus strategic career advice.
  • Provide her with leadership or executive coaching from someone who lacks leadership or systems theory experience.
  • Place her on a gendered career focus or path.
  • “Punish” her with offers of extra work unaccompanied by promotional opportunities, bonuses or other compensation.

What Organizations Can Do Instead

“The reason we’re losing women is because they feel undervalued, underutilized, overworked,” Brancu said during a concurrent session at the SHRM INCLUSION 2022 conference in San Diego last month.

They experience these feelings, she noted, because of insufficient advancement opportunities, unequal treatment, misplaced support, misaligned values, microaggressions, broad return-to-office mandates and feelings of burnout.

Brancu likened leadership training to cultivating a garden where plants thrive.

“If you put [the seed] in the right soil, it would be more likely to grow,” she said. “The soil is the immediate environment: the team. Some seeds need different nutrients, some need more water, some need less light. What if the toxic weed were allowed to sprout up? Would it be allowed to remain, grow … or would it be managed?

“Is there enough room in that garden for enough growth? Is the gardener nurturing every part of that garden? Is the gardener using different tools [that are unique to the plant’s needs]? Is the gardener only tending to some [plants]?”


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