As more and more research confirms that gender diversity is key for organizations’ bottom lines (and healthy work environments), many leaders are now trying to understand how to recruit, retain, and promote more women at work. To help leaders do just that, CCL and Watermark conducted a survey of more than 500 successful women leaders and aspiring leaders asking them about the most important things that organizations can do to attract and retain top-notch women. Here’s what they had to say:
Women Want to Find Their Calling
The most common reason women gave for staying with their current employer was that their job fits well with other areas of their life — followed by enjoying the work that they do, and believing that their job gives them the opportunity to make a difference.
Women were more likely to stay with their employer for these reasons over what might be considered more concrete, traditional reasons such as pay or benefits. Moreover, when women wrote in their personal answers to the question, “What are the most important things that organizations could do to make you want to work for them?” many talked about having personally meaningful work that connects to their values, purpose, and work-life balance.
Together, these reasons describe a specific type of employment that social scientists refer to as “a calling.” Callings are jobs that people feel drawn to pursue; find intrinsically enjoyable and meaningful; and see as a central part of their identity. Research shows that experiencing work as a “calling” is related to increased job satisfaction.
Women Want Flexibility in Where, When, and How They Work
When women were asked to rate the importance of workplace perks and benefits, flexibility concerns rose to the top of the list. Paid time off was rated as the most important perk, followed by healthcare benefits, paid leadership development, flexible schedules, and opportunities to move up in the organization.
Compared to a control group of men, women also rated paid time off and working from home as higher priorities. Flexibility might be particularly critical when it comes to retaining talented women who also want to raise families — women with children rated having a flexible schedule and being able to work from home as more important compared to women who didn’t have children. Flexibility was also a common theme when it came to women’s personal stories about the most important things organizations can do to retain them.
Women Want Real Leadership Opportunities
In our sample of (highly successful) female leaders, women were just as likely as men to be interested in raises, promotions, and leadership development opportunities. They were also just as likely to ask for and accept leadership opportunities.
But women expressed different reasons for turning down leadership opportunities compared to men. Men typically turned down positions because they didn’t want the role, like the supervisor, want to relocate, desire longer hours, or get offered enough money. While some women shared these concerns, women also mentioned confidence issues (not being confident in their qualifications, not being sure others want them in the role,) and concerns that they were being set up for failure.
Unfortunately, research suggests that these concerns among women are valid. Studies show that leadership opportunities for men often come with more resources (funding, supervisor support, team size) compared to women’s opportunities.
What’s more, women are more likely to get “glass cliff” positions — leadership opportunities that are high stakes, precarious, and have a high likelihood of failure. Thus, it might not be surprising that many women said that the most important thing organizations can do is to offer gender-equal opportunities for success.
What Can Leaders Do?
Based on these findings, here are a few things organizational leaders can do to help women — and people of all genders — get what they want out of work:
- Help employees find meaningfulness and enjoyment in their work. Take the time to learn about their personal values, passions, strengths, and life goals. Brainstorm ways to integrate these things into their career. Small changes in how work is framed and executed can go a long way toward turning a job into a calling.
- When possible and practical, allow people to work remotely, and to work hours that make sense for their lives outside of work. Creative solutions such as job sharing (having multiple people share one role), virtual work teams, and limitless vacation options can help employers find the best talent no matter where or when they need to work. Explore the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workplace Flexibility Toolkit for more ideas.
- Give all genders equal opportunities to get promotions, raises, and develop their leadership skills —coupled with the resources and support system they need to achieve success. Effective leader development experiences need to be challenging, yet obtainable, with clear rewards for efforts and successes.