Women don’t want to be change agents

Working girls, working women, working mothers…women have changed the workplace. Some suggest that the future of work and business depends on women, and that women will change the ‘command and control’ structure of work as we currently know it in organizational life. That’s debatable, if you look at the rate women are fleeing many larger organizations as they rise to middle and senior level positions.

What is not debatable is the fact that although smart leaders may want to recruit and retain talented women, they’re really struggling with how to do so.

Is There a Brain Drain?

As women flock to entrepreneurship, many organizations are feeling a brain drain. Many industries are losing or struggling to recruit talented women. Studies continue to show the top reasons for women who voluntarily leave employment are: lack of flexibility, the glass ceiling, unhappiness with the work environment, and/or not being challenged in their work. If organizations really wanted to stop the brain drain, these are environmental factors within their control that can be changed.

Creating a Women-Friendly Workplace

The bottom line is that women don’t want to be change agents to excel at work. Rather than stay and change the work environment, the best and brightest will apply their talent and energy to learning what they can…and then go out on their own.

Can your organization really afford to employ only half of the available talent out there? Ongoing research at Cornell University, The Couples and Careers Study, shows that for women, supervisor support in the workplace is key to satisfaction and employee loyalty. If you want women to stay and grow with your organization, you better ensure your supervisors are doing their job as change agents and creating a women-friendly workplace.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

I know from the comments that working mothers and fathers make is better day care options. Some agencies are quite good at this but what would you suggest in making things better for working parents of small children?

Nancy Dailey, Ph.D.

Leaders and managers getting comfortable with telecommuting would be a big step forward for employees who are working parents of small children. What I hear often is that the telecommuting option is available, but division chiefs and branch leaders are not really okay with the idea. Of course, the nature of the job needs to fit telecommuting but we could be doing a far better job supporting parents in the workplace by applying technology solutions. And this is just one dimension of the child care issue…

Michele Costanza

Employers should focus on hiring and retaining the most qualified, and allowing telework for those with job functions where telework is possible. Having a toddler shouldn’t automatically qualify a woman to work from home. Every telework policy I’ve read includes a note that telework isn’t meant as a replacement for child care. If anything, using child care as a reason to allow telework would seem a disinsentive to most employers. Child care issues are reasons that prove valuable to the employee, but not necessarily for the employer. There are so many other reasons to allow telework, such as cutting down on overhead expenses, easing commuter traffic on highways, saving fuel, productivity evidenced in project completion compared to just face time in an office. From my past experience, employers don’t want to hear that employees, especially young mothers in their 20s with limited work experience and lack of a proven employment history, should be allowed to work from home so they can watch their babies and toddlers. When does the work get done?

I have excelled in work environments based on merit, where the mission is congruent with how work actually gets done. If more organizations operated based on promoting and rewarding their best employees with trust, such as telework, then both women and men who would leave a brain drain would stay. It wouldn’t even be a women-friendly workplace, just a smart people-friendly workplace.

Lindley Ashline

I think it’s possible to balance child care and productivity. (I’m not a parent, but some of my best friends are.) If the work gets done and done well, does it matter whether a parent is also watching a child? And yes, I agree that track records are important, but the mere existence of a small child in the house doesn’t mean the work won’t get done.

Nancy Dailey, Ph.D.

For women in our society, care giving is a second job. Most mothers are in the labor force. Child care issues should be of importance to organizations who are smart about managing their talent. The focus should be on results, like Lindley says. Problem is … many of the current leaders are not skilled yet in managing for results. They are stuck thinking they need to manage time.

Michele Costanza

@Nancy: I agree with you. Just based on prior experience I would advise against an employee asking to telework because they want to watch their kids. I don’t think employers will be understanding.