Report highlights importance of organisational culture in retaining women

Employers need to focus on organisational issues like line manager training and organisational culture if they want to retain women, according to a new report.

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Childcare, menopause and other family-related issues are not the key reasons women leave their jobs, according to a new report which says the way they are forced to work and the way they are managed are more important.

The report, Why Women Leave, by Encompass Equality is based on research showing the top five factors affecting women’s decision to leave their employer are organisational issues, that is, prospects for career progression [cited by 70% in the survey on which the report is based], organisational culture [65%], support from a line manager [82%], workload [31%] and the day to day work itself [85%].

It shows that mums are less likely to be looking to leave their employer than women who don’t have children. On average, women are 38% likely to leave their employer in the next two years. However, black women are significantly more likely to leave: 49% said they are likely to leave in the next two years. Asian women are also more likely to want to leave and substantially more likely than white women to say that childcare, physical or mental health and eldercare issues carry weight in their decisions about whether to stay with or leave their employer.

While childcare and menopause might not be the main reasons women leave, the report says support in relation to these is still important because it may be an indicator of  bigger and more important things like culture. However, it adds that the effect of these will be limited if the five big factors remain unaddressed.

The report tracks women’s attitudes at different ages and stages of their lives. While there is some evidence that women in their 40s are more likely to want to leave, the increase is very small and attitudes are fairly constant. But different factors are more important at different stages of a woman’s working life. For women in their 20s, for instance, blocks to career progression are a big issue, but as they get older the report charts how they either lose interest or hope in progression. For women in their 30s and 40s line manager issues are more important. In their 50s menopause looms, but it “still has a relatively small bearing on decisions about whether to stay or leave”, although its impact has grown in recent years. Indeed, while the report says support for women going through the menopause is important and reflects an underlying inclusive culture, it states that menopausal symptoms don’t appear to have a direct impact on a woman’s propensity to leave her employer.

The report talks about the importance of flexible working, stating: “Organisations need to have a greater focus on flexibility in terms of how employees work. There is still a surprising amount of resistance around things like compressed hours, nine-day fortnights or job-sharing.”

Other recommendations cover job design, rethinking line manager training with a focus on both professional and personal support, learning and development, listening to employees, being open to alternative career paths, assessing workloads and monitoring day to day experiences of female employees, particularly younger women.

It also calls for a focus on women’s initiatives through an organisational lens, stating that initiatives are good, but the everyday experience is more important. It says: “Focusing on organisational cultural issues will help to create a workplace that is better for everyone, and not just women.” That means, for instance, creating menopause awareness sessions for all employees and line managers (not just women of a certain age). It adds: “If you have women who are not feeling motivated by the day-to-day work they are doing, have a line manager they can’t communicate with or a lack of flexibility around how they do their job, then having a menopause offering is not going to stop them from leaving.”

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