Workplace culture, not personal issues, “making women leave”

Goswami: Work, not women’s, issues are the main factors

Workplace culture is the main reason that professional women leave their jobs and not personal issues such as the menopause or caring responsibilities, a study has concluded.

Meanwhile, gender equality initiative the Next 100 Years project have found that only 45% of female legal professionals feel that measures being taken by their employers are effective in removing barriers to their progress.

Nina Goswani, head of inclusion for the UK at Clifford Chance, said in a foreword to the report Why Women Leave that the “top factors” that influence women to stay at or leave an organisation relate to “workplace culture” rather than “what some may traditionally perceive to be ‘women’s issues’” such as caring responsibilities.

The report, by gender balance specialists Encompass Equality, said the “five big factors” cited by women for leaving their previous employer were the day-to-day work itself, support from their line manager, organisational culture, the prospects for career progression and the amount of work.

The researchers polled 3,916 female professionals in April and May this year, two-thirds of them working in various professional services.

A large majority (85%) said the day-to-day work itself had a “huge” or “significant” impact on their decision whether to stay or leave their employer.

A slightly smaller proportion (82%) said the support they got from their line manager had this impact, followed by the prospects for career progression (70%) and organisational culture (65%). Almost a third of women (31%) claimed to be overworking by at least 10 hours a week.

More than a third of women (38%) were likely to leave their employers over the next two years, a proportion which rose to 49% among Black women.

Ms Goswani said the research showed that factors such as support from line managers, the day-to-day work itself, and the team people work with “had a greater impact than caring responsibilities and menopause”.

She added: “What these findings highlight to me is that the issues impacting our female colleagues’ decisions to stay or go are not that dissimilar to any gender.

“So ensuring women have a comparable cultural experience in the workplace as other colleagues becomes all the more important.”

Meanwhile, research from gender equality initiative the Next 100 Years project found that two thirds of women in the legal profession believed their workplace was committed to removing barriers to women’s progress, but only 45% felt that the measures being taken were proving effective.

Mentoring and flexitime emerged as the most likely measures to be effective, with external diversity pledges the least likely.

A large majority of employers of the 204 female legal professionals polled offered remote or hybrid working (88%) and part-time working (68%).

However, only 46% had mentoring and coaching schemes, despite 79% of female lawyers considering them effective. A third had flexitime, in line with the proportion who considered this to be effective.

Almost three-quarters of women (72%) regarded additional support for maternity returners as effective, but only 20% of employers provided it. A slightly smaller group (69%) regarded women’s networks as effective, available at 39% of organisations.

External diversity pledges were considered to be the least effective measure for removing barriers, with 36% considering them to be effective and 27% ineffective.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of the Next 100 Years and CEO of Obelisk Support, commented: “With organisations adopting a wide range of new initiatives, from gender-blind work allocation to fertility services and menopause support, it’s time to take a step back and focus on what women are telling us really works.

“By thinking more strategically, law firms and other organisations can ensure efforts to improve diversity in their workforce are being channelled effectively. Our research suggests that means prioritising practical help with childcare, more truly flexible working options, targeted support for returners and wider uptake of mentoring and coaching schemes or networks.

She went on: “The profession must work harder when it comes to being transparent about work allocation, promotions and recruitment, making sure that there is a level playing field that doesn’t disadvantage those juggling caring commitments.”

    Readers Comments

  • Naomi Passman says:

    I wonder whether this research looked at the cultural issues that have seen women’s networks rebranded as gender networks and women vilified as bigots for trying to enforce their sex-based rights in the workplace?

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