Senior Female Retention: What women really want

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In 2014 Citi conducted a global study to investigate the root causes leading to senior   attrition – both male and female. I love data – not for data’s sake but because it provides an accurate story of what is going on inside the company.

A troubling statistic

“…our senior female attrition was running higher than our senior male attrition – for a company seriously invested in making progress in the numbers of women we have in senior roles, that was a troubling statistic…”

The data point that sparked this particular study was that our senior female attrition was running higher than our senior male attrition – for a company seriously invested in making progress in the numbers of women we have in senior roles, that was a troubling statistic. More concerning was that nobody seemed to have a good idea of why this was the case.

The study included 500 men and women who had left the firm on a voluntary basis over a 24 month period and was carried out as both an online survey and follow-up phone interviews.

A new and different story about senior female retention

Participants came from every part of our business and geography – Asia, North America, Latin America and Europe. Although the data collected was Citi specific, what the survey uncovered tells a new and different story about senior female retention that I think, can be useful both for employers and women who are making their way up the corporate ladder.

  1. Women take time – women had tenure over their male colleagues. 50% of the women in the European study had over 10 years’ experience with Citi compared to only 10% of their male counterparts. They had invested a significant part of their working life at the firm. They also took longer to make the decision to leave – 13% taking up to two years. There seems to be a loyalty dynamic at play with our senior women that is more prevalent than our male cohort.
  2. Women talk it through – everyone talks their career decisions over with family, but there seems to be two groups that the men are not talking to, their bosses and HR. Conversely 90% of women talked with their manager ahead of time, and 50% of women spoke with their HR partner. I believe this represents a huge opportunity for organisations in that we can raise manager capability to hold meaningful career conversations and encourage greater connectedness in terms of talent and mobility discussions.  For senior women, the thing to take away from this is that there is a need to have more impactful conversations. Raising an issue is a great start, articulating the issue in a way that it gets truly heard and acted upon is something else.
  3. Female attrition is NOT about flexibility or work life balance challenges – the majority of women in the study strongly disagreed that flexibility or work life balance challenges had anything to do with their decision to leave. The message came back loud and clear – “we are here to work, we want large, complex, exciting leadership challenges. Let me worry about what is going on at home”.
  4. Female attrition is NOT about leaving to look after a family – the number of women in the European Study who left to look after children is 0.  In the global study only 4% of those who left are at home. The majority of our women (63%) have gone on to other corporate roles in the financial services sector exactly the same as the percentage of men, and a number of them (22%) have started their own business.
  5. Female breadwinners – 67% of the women in the study reported that they were the main breadwinner for the family. The 1950’s legacy of women working for ‘pin money’ died with the last century and its time we woke up to that. The mortgage, kids’ education, pensions and financial planning are being funded and supported by senior women as much as the traditional male breadwinner ever was. Promotions, pay and career path are all as equally important.
  6. Tipping point – Female attrition seems to be led by an accumulation of micro disappointments rather than one significant event. It wasn’t the promotion people missed out on, or the change in business model but rather the growing frustration that career pace and trajectory were not aligned with expectations. And rather like a set of old-fashioned kitchen scales – when the tipping point is reached there is no going back.

So what do senior women really want?

Unsurprisingly – exactly the same as senior men. They want challenge and stretch, they want their careers to move forward with momentum and impact. They will give the organisation the benefit of the doubt for far longer than their male counterparts, but ultimately they will leave to continue to grow.

By: Carolanne Minashi, Head of Diversity, Employee Relations and Employee Engagement at Citi

First published: 16th July 2014

Source: Womanthology