Industry Insights – August 1, 2023
All industries are focused on recruiting talented women and it appears that all are having a hard time retaining them. They report that they are progressing well with regards to recruiting and retaining diverse talent, but seem to fall short when it comes to retaining women.
A challenge is that women tend not to tell the truth when they leave so there’s uncertainty and misunderstanding as to why, which leaves room for speculation. The majority of men and many women believe women leave because they can’t take the pressure, or the workload is too much, or they want to spend more time with their families.
We have been researching and reporting on this phenomenon for over 30 years and have current insights gained from mining, manufacturing and technology focus groups conducted in April, May, and June of 2023.
Our aim was to discover why skilled and talented women are leaving in these times or not seeking promotion and advancement. Many of the reasons are consistently the same for over a generation now. There are though new post-pandemic issues that we’ve uncovered consistent with what we’re finding in other industries as well.
Context – Focus Groups in Mining, Manufacturing and Technology
The Gender Intelligence Group conducted one-on-one executive and manager interviews in seven mining, manufacturing and technology companies, studying their employee data and interviewing their HR policy and process owners.
We also reviewed all relevant HR material including, employee survey results, exit interviews, engagement survey results, recruitment strategies, representation, and turnover.
We found that these seven companies are experiencing the same retention challenges, and these were the predominant themes that emerged:
- Women are leaving due to uncertainty about the future of their industry and their place in it.
- There is a lack of recognition in general of the strengths and capabilities of the women engineers, and other roles, in their leadership pipeline. The women HR representatives that we interviewed felt that way about their own situations.
- Another theme that emerged is that women engineers feel that they may have chosen the wrong profession. We’re hearing this from women engineers and technicians in Silicon Valley, Research Triangle, and other high-tech areas. You don’t often hear men say that they should never have become an engineer. Women internalize and ruminate over these issues. Sometimes they are self-imposed limitations.
- Most often though, women’s perceptions come from limitations brought on by the culture, policies, and procedures—both spoken and unspoken—in their companies.
- A new theme that emerged was the lack of an emotional connection. It has gotten worse because of the pandemic. Women now feel more invisible because hybrid or primarily virtual working environments and have even less of a chance to advance, while many of the men were still meeting socially and mentoring each other.
- Another new theme that emerged that differs from the pre-pandemic era is that women, and some men, are feeling burned out about hybrid working environments and the way we work these days.
Women have different experiences. They feel the culture a lot more than men do. Men can put up with it, being singularly focused on what they’re making and their work. Women read much more into their environments and as a result have a much harder time just “putting up with it.” They leave or they create a sticky floor for themselves and just stay at a certain level and not seek promotion.
The ones that do leave, don’t stay out of the workforce. The HR policy and process owners told us during the focus groups that a good number of women had left citing personal reasons or a need to take time off but reengaged in the workforce within three to six months.
We interviewed several women three months after their departure from their companies and only then revealed to us the truth: that it wasn’t a fit or felt they were being sidelined and led along but becoming invisible. For example, one woman VP had been in her position for several years and worked hard to make SVP, a position her boss promised time and again only to see another man with less experience and expertise get the position.
We’ve gone backward to heroic leadership
Something else has emerged during the pandemic that is causing the exodus of talented women and that is the rise of heroic leadership. It’s a style of individualistic leadership that emphasizes the leader’s strong personality, courage, and willingness to act unilaterally and take risks to achieve extraordinary goals.
We just completed a diagnostic with one of the largest pharmaceutical companies based in the U.S. Part of our diagnostic is a section called Respect & Trust. The women in our survey scored respect and trust of senior leadership the lowest since the company’s founding in 1931. The open-ended comments cited that the men running the company are all individualistic leaders, running the company by themselves and not being inclusive.
Why did it happen in pharmaceuticals and other industries? Why the reversal of gains for women moving up into leadership positions? Why the rise of heroic leadership and sidelining of collaborative leadership?
We believe the key reason was the pressure and panic that set in during the pandemic with equipment and medical shortages and supply chain issues. Men’s brains tend to go into a gear, an urgent, blinders on, linear-thinking mind frame.
There’s also a cost to men for this intensity and going-it-alone mentality that they often refuse to admit to: they’re burning out.
The problem is that most women aren’t that way. Their foundation is a relational mindset, and when they work with individually minded people, they feel excluded. They don’t feel a part of the discovery and decision-making. They feel foreign to individualistic thinking, and they can’t convert to it, which creates a corrosiveness.
What makes it more of a challenge for these industries is that these kinds of individualistic mindsets have a high preponderance of appearing in professions that call for systematic thinking, such as engineering and technology, professions that attract the extreme male brain.
The Future of Work Depends on Taking the Correct Action Now
Companies can’t afford to reverse progress. Leadership teams can’t afford to pay lip service to the factors holding women back from full contribution and participation. Furthermore, it’s critical for leaders to be crystal clear on what’s required to make progress in establishing an inclusive culture on a consistent basis throughout the entire organization.
In a series of sensemaking workshops we led in multiple cities earlier this year, we focused on major roadblocks to achieving strategic goals. The #2 issue was, Ability to Retain and Attract Talent. (#1 was ability to keep up with technology demands.) Follow on focus groups revealed the importance of Sense of Belonging, Culture of Psychological Safety, and Being Heard as leading dimensions that lead to employees doing their best work.
In a strategy session with The Conference Board we led for high potential leaders and managers, the discussion focused on how to build internal support for initiatives, acknowledge diverse contributions, and amplify the impact of all voices.
In our recent work with a large global corporation on building a culture, it was critical that leaders needed skills not only in learning about theory but needed reinforcement of the behaviors and organizational habits—conscious and unconscious—that signal Gender Intelligence and Inclusion.
In short, action matters.
The imprint method
How do you sustain new learning? We knew from the onset 30 years ago that you can’t just conduct deep dive workshops and believe that all the “Aha!” moments and the learning gained are going to stick forever unless you have a continuous movement of people in that direction.
You need reminders, whether it’s embedded in your values, or embedded in symbols or things that you do, or events that you hold, or simple check in’s during a meeting.
After we had spent two years conducting a series of Gender Intelligence workshops with all of the American Express leadership team and several management levels in, the CEO at the time, Kenneth Chenault, by example, ensured that it was commonplace during strategic planning sessions and team meetings throughout the company to hear men and women check themselves by asking,
“Are we being gender-intelligent about this?”, confirming their intent to strive for the complement in problem solving and decision-making.
We ask every company we work with how much money it’s costing them annually with so many talented women leaving or not advancing. They seldom have an answer. In my experience, the only company that has ever really done their homework on the issue of measuring it and tying it to a dollar amount is Deloitte.
Although Deloitte Canada had been putting a great deal of effort in recruiting women as part of their Attraction Retention of Top Talent (ARTT) program, they were still experiencing a 27 percent turnover among women accountants versus 10 percent among men. This turnover was costing the accounting firm $190 million a year in the United States and $40 million in Canada. That loss of time and treasure was rectified within three years.
They embarked on the Gender Intelligence solution and rolled out 157 Men and Women Leading Together workshops across the Canadian division, engaging with their partners, senior managers, and managers. Within 18 months, Deloitte Canada reduced the turnover rate of women to 11 percent.
Corporations need a wake-up call and then, with intention, they need to do something about it and not default to window dressing initiatives. Corporations in the U.S. and Canada spend upward of $8 billion a year on diversity and inclusion initiatives that have little to no impact on the retention and advancement of women.
Companies that “get it” start a process of creating a new awareness for all people managers to make sure that what the implement in terms of best practices in diversity and inclusion will differentiate their companies from that of their peers. The leading companies do not stop there; they translate awareness directly into leadership action.
Defining the highest-impact actions for companies looking to build and sustain an inclusive culture requires candid, custom conversations designed to bring critical issues to the surface.
Barbara Annis, CEO of Gender Intelligence Group (GIG) is a world-renowned expert on Gender, Diversity and Inclusive Leadership, advocating the value and practice of this new type of leadership in organizations worldwide. Her insights and achievements have pioneered a transformational shift in mindsets for men and women across the globe on the importance of gender unity to organizational success.
Barbara began her career as the first woman in sales at Sony and became the first woman Sales Manager with 14 Outstanding Sales Achievement Awards and Sony’s MVP Award. Over the past 30 years, Barbara Annis and her 51 associates have partnered with organizations to transform cultures and leadership behavior, while creating greater gender balance at all levels. They have facilitated over 8,000 workshops and conducted thousands of leadership assessments and executive coaching sessions.
Barbara Annis has published five transformational books and has worked with clients such as, NASA, Deloitte, PWC, American Express, SAP, Microsoft, TECK, Vale, Pfizer, e-Bay, Paypal, Google, Wallbridge, Shell, Cisco, Mattel, Novartis, IKEA, Costco and many more.
Featured on, CNN, NBC, NBC, CBC, PBS, Wall Street, Forbes, NY Times, Fast Company and many more.
Guest lecturer at Harvard, Stanford, Singularity University, Yale, UCLA, Fordham, Pepperdine, Western, Toronto University, London School of Business and many more.
Barbara Annis is Chair Emeritus and current member of the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard Kennedy School and was recently conferred the International Alliance for Women, Lifetime Achievement Award.
Barbara is also a passionate philanthropist contributing to: Doctors without Borders, St. Margate Hospital, St. Jude’s Children Hospital, Harvard’s Women Public Policy, KIVA, and more. For more information, please visit www.genderintelligence.com
Andrea Kates is senior partner at Gender Intelligence Group and a Silicon Valley-based innovation advisor and the author of the award-winning book, Find Your Next, a complete guide for transforming ideas into concrete actions.
She helps large enterprises and growth-oriented organizations drive impact for their customers, investors, partners and communities. Her transformation initiatives have spanned multiple industries, including manufacturing, energy, mobility, healthcare, education, real estate/future of work and technology across 4 continents.
A dynamic thought leader, Andrea is in high demand as a speaker and has delivered keynotes at some of the world’s most prestigious conferences, including the TED main stage, Aspen Ideas Festival, Dubai2020, Rueda de Innovación, Nordic Fintech, OpenFinance Mexico, Innov8rs, Nordic Fintech global conference, and the CXO Forum in Tokyo.
Previously, she was the CEO of the Silicon Valley SaaS company that pioneered the application of the lean startup process with more than 13,000 corporate teams. She has also had appointments at Princeton, Stanford, Cal Berkeley, Business Institute Denmark and Copenhagen Business School. Her research and writing has been featured in publications including Harvard Business Review, Tid and Tendenser and Engineering + Technology Journal.
Most recently, Andrea was named Research Fellow with the Conference Board, a global think tank on leadership and technology, and was a featured thought leader with Thinkers50 global Ecosystem Alliance. She’s currently leading a Canada-wide healthcare initiative designed to build an ecosystem with 1 million stakeholders.
In the Gender Equity/Future of Work and ChangeOS arena, Andrea has led projects for JLL, Upwork, SuMi Trust (Japan), Unispace, and The Instant Group. Her clients include Siemens, Tata (multiple divisions), 3M, Ford (US + China), Husqvarna, KinderMorgan, Shell, ABB, Cisco (Innovator in Residence), Fujitsu (Silicon Valley + Tokyo), KK Wind/Vestas/Maersk (Nordic), and Mayo Clinic Ventures.
A noted expert on technology and manufacturing trends, she sits on a number of advisory boards and councils, including Copenhagen Fintech, Shimizu (Tokyo), and Research Technology Management where she helps guide global partnerships and ecosystem strategy. Passionate about promoting purpose + profit, she mentors and supports emerging leaders with training, masterclasses + mastermind series: Get To Next and ChangeOS, an operating system for transformation.
“Our conference was a great success, much thanks to your fine involvement and excellent presentation. We could have listened to you for hours; we do hope to have a much longer encore in Stockholm next year. You were EVERYBODY’S favorite speaker and the perfect conclusion to the day.”
Renée Lundholm - President of the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce
“Barbara has been a true blessing for our company; she spins her magic, plants seeds in everyone’s minds that have grown into unforeseen results.”
Tom Schwartz - Four Seasons
“Our company is not the same since we learned about Gender Intelligence, we have exceeded on all our six metrics once we implemented our insights. Gender Intelligence is now in the DNA of our culture”
Kerrie Peraino, EVP, American Express
“WOW!” I had no idea of the impact Gender Intelligence has had on me as a leader and how I have transformed my approach to how I work and communicate with women and engage diverse teams”
Bob Cancalosi, GE
“Our culture at the firm has transformed from a macho siloed culture to an inclusive culture. I really see the change over the years and it has had lasting effect at many levels, including the fact that we now have 42% of women in leadership”
Jane Allen, Senior Partner, Deloitte
“The Executive Coaching that Barbara Annis & Associates provided can only be summed up as a transformational life-changing experience. Not only was I able to overcome several major hurdles in my professional and personal life, but I actually enjoyed the ride. From the bottom of my heart… I thank you.”
Jim Riddell - Executive Vice President of General Motors
“In the two decades, scores of diversity consultants have appeared on the scene in global businesses and governments… The best of the bunch is Barbara Annis.”
Tony Blair - British Prime Minister
“Anyone who has experienced a coaching session or workshop with Barbara Annis will never be the same… It’s a wake-up call that leaves you refreshed and with fire in your belly.”
Mary Kay Ash - Founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics
“Barbara has an ability to get in under my skin and create unparallel learning for me, a very cynical businessman. Thank you doing this with such tenacity and elegance.”
Richard Barton - CEO & President of Xerox
“I was skeptical at first, but quickly discovered that Gender intelligence was a powerful transformative experience for all our leaders involved. It has had a lasting impact on how we think about our business and how we walk to talk as leaders”
Lars Terney, Partner, Nordic Capital
“My sincere appreciation for the Men and Women in Business Program. We have had tremendous feedback from the participants from all aspects of the program. This truly was a “state of the art” experience. Thank you Barbara, your powerful messages and tremendous presence was the key. You and your associates are true professionals. Also, many specifically commented on how valuable it was to hear from our customers, partners and competitors on this very important topic.”
Khalil E. Barsoum - CEO/President of IBM Canada
“I had no idea how important it was to recognize gender differences. It affects everything we do from how we work in teams, market and sell our product, and deal with management. Thank you Barbara! An outstanding session for both men and women.”
Rob Singer - President, Europe of Sarah Lee
“Gender Intelligence has made a huge difference to our leadership team and our bank. It has made a tremendous impact in how we lead and communicate with each other, we look forward to rolling this out to our entire bank”
Scott Anderson, CEO, Zions Bank