From the “big breakup” to the “wonderful makeup”

For women in the workplace, it’s becoming clear that the post-pandemic era offers good news and bad news. After suffering disproportionately high job losses at the height of Covid-19, figures from the US National Women’s Law Center show that women’s employment is rising – and the UK’s Office for National Statistics tells a similar story.

But according to Lean In and McKinsey’s recent Women in the Workplace report, we’re in the midst of what its authors call the “great divide” — a phenomenon that’s causing women leaders to leave their jobs at the highest rate on record never.

For individual women, transitioning from one role to another may represent progress – but for ambitious companies focused on growth, stemming this drain of female talent is vital.

Setting the scene

Simply put, most companies cannot afford to lose female leaders. They are not enough as they are.

In 2021, I sponsored a BrandedU and WOMEN Inc. campaign. which highlighted this issue in my country, the Netherlands: a nation where there are more CEOs named Peter than female CEOs.

The Lean In and McKinsey study points to the same problem. It found that only one in four C-suite leaders is a woman, while only one in 20 is a woman of color. They put this down to the “broken ladder” that women encounter when they first try to climb into management: a point in their careers where for every 100 men who are promoted, just 87 women move up the ladder.

Even worse, for every manager-level woman who is promoted, two now they choose to leave their company. This is not only important in principle, but because diversity in business drives success, promotes productivity and helps create a healthy company culture.

As a female leader of diverse teams in 120 markets around the world, see what I’ve learned about how companies can turn the “big breakup” into a great makeover.

Fatima Koning, IWG’s Chief Commercial Officer

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Fatima Koning, Chief Commercial Officer of IWG


Women want work-life balance

First and foremost, companies need to consider the balance between the “push” and “pull” factors that influence women’s willingness to stay in their roles.

Key among the pull factors is a clear, effective hybrid labor policy. According to Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor and world-renowned expert on hybrid work, companies that offer this kind of flexibility can expect to see churn rates drop by as much as 35 percent.

Hybrid work is particularly important for women, who still tend to take on more household responsibilities than men. In my life, it makes a vital difference: I have the power to co-parent my daughter, take good care of myself, and advance my career—priorities that would be much more difficult to manage successfully if I were commuting. at a central office every day.

By reducing the need to travel, companies give back valuable time to their people. With the highest rates of attrition and burnout among women, this is especially important for female workers – and the businesses that need to retain them.

After the pandemic, few of us want to go back to ‘business as usual’, but it seems that women are particularly reluctant. The Women in the Workplace report makes it clear that young women are very ambitious, but they are not prepared to sacrifice their well-being to get ahead in the workplace. The IWG’s own data paints a similar picture, with 72% of people saying they would forgo a 10% pay rise in favor of keeping hybrid work.

What does this mean for companies? This hybrid work is important for existing female workers and for attracting fresh female talent. Without it, businesses will struggle to hire the to retain women at all levels, seriously harming diversity and hindering their future success.

Consider the company culture

When it comes to “push” factors, company culture can significantly influence women’s decisions to leave leadership roles.

According to Women in the Workplace, many women experience microaggressions that undermine their authority. The report found that colleagues are more likely to question a female leader’s judgment or suitability for her role, and also said that women cited personal characteristics, such as being a parent, played a role in being passed over for promotion.

In other words, the presence of women in an organization – even at senior levels – does not mean that the company has achieved equity. Even now, it appears that female colleagues are more likely to take on unpaid, undervalued office “housework” such as watering plants, tidying common areas and keeping the kitchen stocked. In order to retain female talent, companies need to address the gap that may exist between how egalitarian a culture appears and how egalitarian it actually is feels.

Investing in women through mentoring programs and ensuring fair recruitment for promotions is key. Throughout my time at the IWG, I have benefited enormously from the guidance of Mark Dixon, who has always been a strong supporter and ally.

With my own groups, I regularly challenge the cultural norms and social conditions that can hold women back. Perfectionism is a perfect example: as women, we’re raised to try to do everything right, while men feel freer to make mistakes. I tell all my people that being 70% sure of something is usually pretty sure! Adopting this can-do approach enables innovation across the board, but is especially liberating for women.

Companies that consider not only what people, but also what women need in terms of motivation, encouragement and confidence building, will find it worthwhile.

Doing hybrid work

Embracing hybrid work is a positive step towards improved recruitment and retention of female talent. However, it is not a panacea: companies must craft their hybrid policies carefully, provide adequate training for hybrid system leaders, and continuously monitor how well the model is working.

It’s also worth noting that hybrid work is more likely to help level the playing field if male and female workers are encouraged to respond equally to the offer. Allowing the development of “two-tier” groups, where some (presumably male) employees spend more time at corporate headquarters than their female colleagues, could inadvertently perpetuate, rather than facilitate, unfairness.

This is one reason to consider providing local, flexible workspace for employees: business environments close to home where they can work without domestic distractions and without the burden of a long commute. Major companies such as Standard Chartered Bank and NTT have now partnered with IWG to do just that, giving their people access to 3,500 locations around the world.

Support for success

Finally, it’s important to remember that while the Lean In and McKinsey report shows that women are leaving senior leadership roles, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re leaving the workplace entirely.

Instead, the study highlights the very real danger that, more easily than ever, women will vote with their feet when they’re unhappy. This is another double whammy for companies hesitant to embrace the hybrid model or create cultures that cater to women: not only will they lose top talent, but it may also go to their competitors.

In 2022, companies simply cannot afford to be without diverse, inclusive leadership. Inequality of opportunity reduces productivity, stifles creativity and harms innovation.

Right now, women are as ambitious as ever – but their drive extends to rejecting work cultures that don’t serve them. My experience, both as a mentee and as a leader, shows that when employers support women’s success, everyone wins.

Fatima Koning, Group Chief Commercial Officer, IWG.

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