Aditi Garg, 35, a resident of Delhi who had been working as a creative head for a start-up for over four years, left her job three months ago because she felt her growth had stagnated. She has been in the industry for nearly 15 years.
At 56, Maya has 27 years of experience in the healthcare sector, and has held various senior positions at her workplace. However, she is looking to leave her current role and look for firms that will offer her the option to work hybrid.
Women in senior managerial positions are switching jobs at the highest rates recorded – and at higher rates than men in leadership, a study conducted McKinsey and LeanIn.Org in corporate America has found.
For every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company, the research shows.
Women are demanding more flexible work models, and they’re leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers for it. The widespread trend is not limited to America, and has been termed as 'The Great Breakup.'
So, what is prompting women leaders in India to swerve?
Less Space for Growth, Microaggressions
"I've being working here for 4 years, and I felt that my role was getting diluted as the company became bigger. I've been leading a team of 20-25 designers. Lately, I was also getting less recognition – or my team was getting less recognition – than the teams associated with management," shares Aditi, who left her job managing a team of designers at a start-up three months ago.
Shruti (name changed), 32, who manages business operations for a tech company, reveals, "At my work, there is a team manager who is at the same grade as me. He keeps trying to give me suggestions on how I should be managing my team. This is even when my team members are much happier than his." Shruti is passively looking for other jobs.
Women managers tend to leave when their company starts signalling that it will be harder for them to grow – like in Aditi and Shruti's case. The McKinsey 'Women in Workplace Report 2022' report corroborates this.
"Women leaders are just as ambitious as men, but at many companies, they face headwinds that signal it will be harder to advance. They’re more likely to experience belittling microaggressions, such as having their judgement questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior."
Flexibility, Hybrid Work Are Major Priorities
Maya shared that having flexible working conditions is a big priority for her post the pandemic.
"My current job requires me to work 6 days a week. I have been at this workplace for over 25 years. It was difficult to juggle family responsibilities and work with only one holiday a week for so many years. Now, while I want to continue working, I want more time for myself – to pursue my interests like yoga, travel, reading, and also to spend more time with my children and parents."Maya, 56
"One thing that will be a non-negotiable condition for me in my next place of work is hybrid mode of working. After COVID-19, I see everyone around me enjoying the choice of working from home on some days, and I want to do that too," she adds.
Women employees who can choose to work in the arrangement they prefer – whether remote or on-site – are less burned out, happier in their jobs, and much less likely to consider leaving their companies, McKinsey's research has found.
Aditi, who has a six-year-old, has chosen to shift to freelancing for similar reasons. "I can spend time with my daughter while working from home," she says.
Women in Senior Management Beget More Women, but Their Work Is Underrecognised
Shruti, who had previously been working as a team head at a consultancy firm, shares that she changed her job due to long hours, and is much happier at her new workplace where there are more women in senior roles.
"It is encouraging when there are more women in the management level at my new workplace. At my older company, the few women who were at the top positions did not have balanced lifestyles – so there was nobody whom I could look up to. At my new workplace, there are lots of women in leadership, there is focus on diversity, and there is an active promotion of work-life balance."Shruti
Women leaders are doing more than their male counterparts to support employee well-being and foster inclusion, as per research.
"As a leader, I make sure I am considerate to the women in my team when they ask for flexibility, or something like a period leave. I constantly motivate my team, and make sure I interact with them at a personal level as well. I take them out for team dinners or lunches, I make them comfortable, so that they can tell me about any problems they are facing at the workplace," says Aditi.
This work improves retention and employee satisfaction but is not formally rewarded in most companies. "Indeed, 40 percent of women leaders say their DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) work isn’t acknowledged at all in performance reviews. Spending time and energy on work that isn’t recognised could make it harder for women leaders to advance," as per the Women in Workplace 2022 report.
What Lies Ahead?
Research shows that the factors that prompt current women leaders to leave their companies are even more important to the next generation of women leaders.
As per McKinsey's study, the biggest gender gap is at the first step up to manager: entry-level women are 18 percent less likely to be promoted than their male peers. This gender disparity has a dramatic effect on the pipeline as a whole, and it is this rung of the ladder than needs immediate attention.
"The parameters for measuring success should not just be productivity and things like that, but other qualities like soft skills should be taken into account," says Maya, when asked what keeps women leaders from getting the promotions they deserve.
"At my previous workplace, I did not get a promotion after I took three months off for my maternity leave. Asking for leaves was also a big issue there. These are the kinds of things that make a workplace deterrent for women employees," notes Aditi.
For Shruti, who likes to balance her life – focusing on preparing her meals and her fitness routine on a daily basis, the kind of flexibility offered matters a lot. "I'm never going back to work five days a week. Workplaces should recognise that things have changed post the pandemic and offer that choice."
"If companies don’t take action, they risk losing not only their current women leaders but also the next generation of women leaders. Young women are even more ambitious and place a higher premium on working in an equitable, supportive, and inclusive workplace. They’re watching senior women leave for better opportunities, and they’re prepared to do the same," the 'Women in Workplace' report predicts.
(This article was first published on 30 October 2022. It has been republished from The Quint's archives in the run-up to International Women's Day on 8 March.)