Why Women In Leadership Roles Are Leaving Their Jobs


You've heard about the “great resignation” but what about the “great breakup” — women stuck in mid-level positions who chose to “break up” with their job and look somewhere else.

The barriers that keep many women perpetually stuck at mid-level positions, which range from outright bias to time lost due to taking maternity leave, have been well-documented over the decades. That said, the rate at which many have stopped putting up with them is on the increase.

The latest Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org found that nearly 10% of women in leadership positions left their jobs in 2022. 

That number is the highest it's been in years and particularly acute at management levels. Two women leave for every woman who gets promoted to director.

Compared to men, the number of women leaving is also 1.5 times higher. The study looked at over 40,000 employees from 55 companies across the U.S. and Canada as well as talent data from an additional 333.

'Too Few Women To Promote'

“For the eighth consecutive year, a 'broken rung' at the first step up to manager is holding women back,” the study's authors write. “As a result, men significantly outnumber women at the manager level, and women can never catch up. There are simply too few women to promote into senior leadership positions.”

A large reason for the “break-up” has to do with what many women see as a lack of opportunities to advance. While 48% of the women who left jobs in the last two years named that as a reason, only 44% of men did so.

The study further found only 87 women advanced for every 100 men promoted from entry-level to manager.

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For women of color, that number drops to 82.

Other common reasons for leaving include a lack of flexibility, manager support and company commitment to diversity and inclusion. While both men and women named these as a common reason for leaving, the numbers were higher for women across every category.

The study did not have enough data for similar numbers on non-binary or gender nonconforming workers.

Work Flexibility And Advancement Opportunities Are Where It's At

There's also the good old burning out. While 31% of men at the leadership level feel burnt-out, that number jumps to 41% for women.

“For the first time in my career, we're seeing people leaving and going to companies with a more generous work from home policy,” a Black woman in a VP role surveyed for the study told the authors. “So I dug into the data, and I realized something about every single person leaving. They were all women.””

During historically low unemployment, employees in certain fields may find that they can walk if a given job consistently fails to give them those things. Despite ebbs and flows over the years, the number of women leaving is still higher than it was in every year since 2017.

And for every woman who took the plunge and left her job, another one is mulling it over. Data shows 29% of women and 22% of men considered reducing their hours, taking a less demanding job or leaving the workforce altogether in the last year.

“Companies that don't take action may struggle to recruit and retain the next generation of women leaders, and for companies that already have a 'broken rung' in their leadership pipeline, this has especially worrisome implications,” write the study's authors.”

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