How to retain talented women in your organization
One of the women I work with was bored in her job. Although she loved her colleagues she knew she had more potential and felt ready for a next step. She wanted to figure out what the best career move would be and work on her confidence to make it happen.
During our sessions she was asked to apply for a job in a completely different department. She worked in client services and the vacancy was in sales. Despite that she didn’t have any experience in that area, she did the interview and got the job.
She is challenged again, is learning new skills and feels heard and valued by the company.
And the company has retained a talented employee.
I’m sharing this story because, if one of the managers hadn’t asked her how she felt about her career in the company, she would have advanced her career somewhere else.
Don’t take women for granted
There are gender-biased assumptions that talented women will stay loyal to their firm because they value their relationships with their coworkers. The assumption that women value these relationships is so strong that people continue to believe women will choose to stay even in the face of better, outside career opportunities1.
But, like men, women do job hop. They can’t be taken for granted.
So, what can you do to retain the talented women in your team and organization?
Here are three quick win interventions and three longer term strategies that will positively impact your employee retention.
A study by Gallup2 shows that 52% of voluntarily exiting employees say their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job.
So instead of only having exit interviews, start incorporating stay interviews into your retention strategy.
A stay interview is a conversation between a manager and the employee to find out what she likes about the role, the team and the company and what she misses and would like to have more of.
In their book Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay, Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans share some great questions you could ask:
- What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
- What do you dislike about your job every day?
- What will keep you here? What might entice you away?
- How do you rate your work-life balance on a scale from zero to ten? What do you need to improve that score with at least 2 points?
- What do you want to learn this year?
- What can I do to support your career goals?
- Is there anything else you would like to discuss that I might have missed?
Whole person communication
Instead of only focusing on their career, make sure you create a holistic picture of your team members. What’s important to them? What do they love to do outside of work? What are challenges in their personal life etc.
This leads to more meaningful conversations.
Even if you can’t solve a challenge directly, expressing empathy by acknowledging the challenge has a huge impact. Team members feel heard and valued.
It also gives you information about what they need and how you can support them in the best way.
For example, some women who come back after maternity leave would like to be offered a ‘mummy track’, whilst other women want to strive for a big promotion in the first year after maternity leave.
And of course, it’s important to engage, apart from women, also men in whole person communication. By encouraging men to talk about their family and for example their wishes around paternity leave, this becomes normal and more important in the organization. This contributes to a more respectful gender balanced culture.
Learning and development is key for keeping employees motivated and engaged. Coaching is a great opportunity to support a team member in maximizing her professional and personal potential. Depending on someone’s individual goals a coaching program can result in, for example, greater confidence, a strengthened authentic leadership style, elevated effectiveness and a healthier work-life balance.
Besides the transformational impact coaching can have for an individual, organizations benefit greatly from coaching as well. And not only to increase their retention rates. For example, several studies3 show Return on Investment Rates (ROI’s) of more than 500%, an increase in productivity of more than 50% and an improved stakeholder relationship of more than 70%.
Game changing strategies
Internal talent mobility
When you have a job vacancy, is it easier for you to hire externally rather than from within the company? And how’s that for a female team member who seeks a new position?
Multiple studies on talent mobility show that actively moving employees into different roles is one of the most underutilized techniques in companies today4.
Often, the best person for an open role is already in the organization but there are different reasons that frustrate creating a culture of internal talent mobility.
First, it’s important to approach talent mobility as a climbing frame instead of a ladder. Upward mobility only is limited and it can discourage employees. Lateral movements and even movements down to eventually move up again, give employees opportunities to keep developing themselves. This is also possible for smaller companies. They could for example think of moving talent across key external stakeholders, like placements with customers, suppliers and distributers5.
A second reason is a lack of information. Define talent mobility, make clear for employees how they can move within the organization and which internal positions are open. And on the other hand, make sure all employees have development plans and catalogue their talents and skills. Preferably focus on transferable skills which can be used in every role, no matter the business group, division or country. An internal talent marketplace is a great way to create more transparency. Such a marketplace will keep your organization agile in filling internal positions and retaining talent.
Finally, support managers in shifting from a ‘hoarding’ mindset to a mindset that prioritizes talent mobility as part of talent development. And reward them for their ability to both develop people and provide them opportunities for further development.
Organizations with a growth mindset emphasize effort over genius. There is a focus on ‘we have the ability to develop’ instead of ‘genius is required for a job’.
These organizations have happier employees and a more innovative, risk-taking culture6. Such a developmental culture also positively impacts the representation of women in the organization, because they are more likely to expand their horizon and work to their stretched potential. Besides keeping talented women on board with a developmental culture it’s also easier to expand the talent pool. Think for example of women who were stay at home mums for a couple of years and want to go back to the workforce or women who want to change careers.
Flexible working culture
The pandemic has made employees think differently about what they want from their work. Microsoft’s annual work trend index report7 shows that 53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic. And 71% of employees want flexible working arrangements to stay. Flexible working has become a crucial factor in retaining and attracting both talented women and men.
Hybrid working won’t work with only having a policy into place. To support diversity and equity in the organization, flexibility should not be a perk, it should be the norm.
And this requires a clear strategy in which building trust, open communication in teams and leading by example are essential elements.
For example, when a senior leader shows he works flexibly and communicates about the benefits – being able to do more sports or attend the nativity play of his daughter – this has a huge impact on the rest of the organization.
1 Campbell, E.L and Hahl, O. (2022). Stop undervaluing exceptional women. Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2022/07/stop-undervaluing-exceptional-women?cx_testId=8&cx_testVariant=cx_undefined&cx_artPos=0#cxrecs_s
2 McFeely, S and Wigert, B. (2019). This fixable problem costs US businessess $1 trillion. Gallup Workplace. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/247391/fixable-problem-costs-businesses-trillion.aspx
4 Oakes, K. (2021). Let your top performers move around the company. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/08/let-your-top-performers-move-around-the-company
5 Martin, K and Jamrog, J. (2016). Talent Mobility Matters: How high-performance organizations use new assignments to engage top talent and build diversity into their leadership pipelines. i4cp. https://www.i4cp.com/file/1519/download
6 HBR editors (2014). How companies can profit from a growth mindset. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-companies-can-profit-from-a-growth-mindset
7 Microsoft (2022). Great expectations: Making hybrid work work. Microsoft Worklab. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/