Keeping Female Workers Happy On the Job

Discussion
Oct 08, 2009

By George Anderson

Economist,
founding president of the Center
for Work-Life Policy and author of the
upcoming book Top
Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down,
Sylvia Ann Hewlett believes American companies have a potential problem
on their hands with female executives.

Writing on
the Harvard Business Review‘s
website, Ms. Hewlett points to research showing that 84 percent of women
executives are seriously considering leaving their jobs. This is compared
to 40 percent of men in executive ranks.

Losing females
from the c-suite is bad for business, Ms. Hewlett maintains, because
research studies show companies with a larger percentage of women in
top positions outperform those that are more male oriented and thought
to be more susceptible to group think.

“My
favorite study, published last October by CERAM Business School,” Ms.
Hewlett writes, “showed that firms in the CAC
40 (the
French equivalent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average) with a high
ratio of women in top management showed better resistance to the
financial crisis. The fewer female managers a company has, the greater
drop in its share price since January 2008.”

Companies that
are serious about retaining top talent have programs in place to help
them improve their skills and advance careers. Ms. Hewlett cites
Intel and Johnson & Johnson as companies that have developed targeted
programs with these goals in mind.

Discussion
Questions: Are retailers doing enough to recruit and retain female executive
talent? Are there programs at specific companies that you can point to
as examples of the right way to go about helping female executives improve
their skills and advance their career opportunities?

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18 Comments on "Keeping Female Workers Happy On the Job"


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Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Depends on the segment. Specialty retail has been advanced in developing female talent for decades, whereas big box retailers are just now realizing how crucial female talent can be to successful retail. Consumer electronics has made good strides, but still lags behind the very advanced models in apparel. And grocery, well, let’s just say they have a ways to go yet.

Consider The Limited Inc., GAP and Ann Taylor; three of the premier authorities in this area. Maybe someone from one of those companies could divulge their experiences (or write a really great book)?

David Biernbaum
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

The article doesn’t make the reasons clear why companies are struggling to retain female executives. However, I don’t doubt the general results of the research. Frankly, my own experience has been that companies that have a balance of men and women at the executive level often outperform those companies with only all men, or all women. Diversity works well for any number of reasons.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 7 months ago
Retailers are doing enough to recruit and retain female talent. The question really should be, are women doing enough to be recruited and retained? Retailers do not need gender-specific programs to help female executives improve their skills and advance their careers. That notion is insulting to females and labels them as incompetent; insinuating that they somehow need special help and they are incapable of doing it on their own. I really doubt that 84% of women and 40% of male executives are seriously considering leaving their jobs. I do agree that more women than men are considering leaving their jobs. Men are wired to be more success-oriented and it would appear to be a sign of weakness to drop out of the workforce. Women are more family oriented and it is socially more acceptable for a woman to drop out for family reasons. Are special programs needed? No. I think each case needs to be evaluated on an individual basis. If a woman is a real rainmaker, then the company simply works with the individual… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Corporate governance should mirror the population. Diversity–of opinion, gender, et al–is one of the prime guarantors of sustainable innovation. Should companies do more to retain women executives? Sure. In fact, they should do whatever they can to retain talent, wherever it is found.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

In business schools, I have had to work hard to get ANY students to consider a retail career. Retail needs to do a better job of getting college students interested in retail as a career, remembering to diversify recruiting, training, and retention efforts.

Andrea Learned
Guest
Andrea Learned
11 years 7 months ago

How about figuring out how to keep great executives as opposed to “female” executives? As Gail Collins mentions in her new book (When Everything Changed)–women don’t need their achievements to be recognized in terms of their female-ness. The key here is to identify what keeps these particular great executives (who happen to be women) happy and in their jobs–and use those findings to attract/keep ALL stellar leaders. It’s not a gender issue, per se, even though women’s ways may be guiding us on how to do things better–it’s just good business!

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

The US lags the rest of the developed world in family-friendly policies, with stingy maternity benefits and inflexible work hours. Many working mothers make three meals in the morning before they leave the house. There’s ample research to show that flexible hours promotes employee loyalty and boosts retention…what are we waiting for?

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 7 months ago
Can we get rid of the stereotypes of “success-oriented” men and “family-oriented” women? Studies suggest that managerial women leave not because of family but because of lack of challenges, frustration with politics and companies being reticent to “do the right thing.” Is it just a coincidence that the whistle blower at Enron was a woman, blowing the whistle on a male dominated company? Where was the man that was strong enough to upset this teetering apple cart? Is it a coincidence that the leaders of today’s financial disaster were men? What gender was leading the auto companies? Are women successfully leading fashion retail companies? Which group would be more accomplished? A group of the 50 best and brightest men or a group with the 25 best and brightest men and 25 of the best and brightest women? There is no doubt that the talent in the mixed group would be at a higher level than that of the all male group. Are retailers doing enough to recruit and retain female executives? If the executive team… Read more »
Susan Parker
Guest
Susan Parker
11 years 7 months ago

David, this statement “Men are wired to be more success-oriented and it would appear to be a sign of weakness to drop out of the workforce. Women are more family oriented and it is socially more acceptable for a woman to drop out for family reasons.” is offensive on many levels.

I don’t think one gender is more wired for success. One is generally more socially-supported to be successful.

Women are more family-oriented because they generally have to be. Unless they have a very egalitarian spouse who enjoys contributing to the running of the family’s day-to-day business, these duties and responsibilities will generally fall on her shoulders.

Male executives have long had the benefit of the spouse who supports his career path and growth.

Female executives who are successful probably have this support or outsource many home-based tasks where they can.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

The numbers are interesting but they do not tell us, for example, if the women are looking to get out of the workforce or just get out of retailing. They also do not tell us what positions these women and men hold.

As someone stated earlier, it is not just about women, it is about a career in retailing. Even in the down economy–and maybe somewhat because of it–people are looking more and more for some balance in life. They may be putting in long hours just to keep their job in today’s economy but as things begin to change for the better–which looks like it is going to happen soon–both men and women are going to be on the move.

Retailing is a great training ground but needs to be better at becoming a career of choice.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 7 months ago

It’s the hours. For ever and ever, the evening hours and weekend obligations of retail employment have been a problem for “family oriented” men AND women. Many retail employees absolutely love working with the merchandise and relish the human contact with, and ability to assist, customers. Yet a lot of us found the hours and constant schedule changes to be incompatible with the family life we wanted to live.

But customers need and demand access to stores and goods at all hours, store management is required, and the customers’ convenience must be respected. This “being open” is an issue that has plagued merchants since they first started to put on their aprons and opened up their shops. Recruitment and retention of retail workers and executives will always be impacted by the hours they have to work.

Jean Forney
Guest
11 years 7 months ago
I read David’s comments with great interest. The short-sighted opinion given has all ready been addressed by Ryan and Camille and perfectly cauterized by Susan Parker. If possible, I will try not to be redundant. There has been an ongoing issue recruiting and retaining top talent into retail in general. The food/grocery business has been behind the curve on this for years–and even greater when you factor in diversity talent–not just women, but African Americans and Hispanic Americans as well. Retaining talent crosses gender and diversity lines–if you are going to develop programs to keep people happy long term, they should involve not just financial incentives but also provide for changes in an individual’s personal situation, lifestyle, and career goals. Golden handcuffs are great but keep in mind; most people aren’t recruited at a level that these would apply. Recruiting an individual as a recent college grad, or a candidate with significant runway in their career generally means that they may be single, have no children–they may aspire to complete a Masters or PhD–they may… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

Count me among those who say “It’s not just about women in retail.” Retail has NEVER been good at identifying, training, and retaining talent. While my friend Mark Lilien started out as a trainee at EJ Korvettes, that was on the home office side and it was also a while ago (no offense, Mark).

Retailers get first crack at the best talent in the US–most everyone’s first job is bagging groceries or working sales floors–yet we allow those jobs to remain transient and those workers to move on to other industries.

It’s incumbent upon us as retailers to find, train, and retain talent. I always tried to do it when I was a CIO–it was the most satisfying part of my job–and there are at least 3 CIOs today who started as programmers with me. How many of us can say the same?

This is more than a women’s problem.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 7 months ago

I believe that more can be done to recruit and retain women in retail and to create more diversity-friendly environments in general. Retail had never been known for diversity and in many cases (on both the retailer and supplier side), it remains a boy’s club. Female retail executives that I speak with say that they grow tired of this “system” and that’s why many opt out.

Best Buy has done a great job with its WOLF pack (Women’s Leadership Forum) which operates under the philosophy that empowering Best Buy’s female employees is the first step toward being relevant to female shoppers.

I don’t like it when female-focused executive groups and events are framed as “support” groups; however. This isn’t about being propped up, it’s about removing historical obstacles which in some cases means over-correcting in the short term.

BTW, David, based on your comments, I’m concerned that something is wrong with my “wiring.” Should I call an electrician?

Suzanne Morgan
Guest
Suzanne Morgan
11 years 7 months ago
I totally disagree with one respondent that states “men are more hardwired to succeed at work and women are more family oriented and happier at home.” That is the kind of thinking that prevails today among older men and the kind of thinking that is the barrier to progress with this very serious issue. All people, male and female, want to be where they are appreciated. Unfortunately, women are socially trained that they are the ones that are most needed at home and so feel more guilty than men when leaving their expected post. With the right support and appreciation at home and work, women are just as likely to be success oriented at work as men. In fact, I believe that women who chose that route will be more driven to succeed because they are highly aware of the significance of their choice. My personal experience is that women do not get the positive experience they were hoping for in an executive-level role. There are fundamental differences with the way men and women behave… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
11 years 7 months ago
I would have to stand by my statement that men are more wired for success and women are more wired to be family oriented. Otherwise more women would be opting into executive positions and they are not. If 84% of women execs are considering leaving their jobs and opting out, what am I to conclude? When I see more men than women choosing to become executives, what should I conclude? I agree that it would be beneficial to have more women in the executive suites. But should we lower the bar until until the ranks are even? Probably not. That would truly be unfair to the women who have stepped up to compete on their own merit. Lowering the bar is not the answer but encouraging competition is. My support staff is made up entirely of women. They are self employed vendors that work around family schedules and not corporate schedules. That is their personal choice and it’s working out quite well for them. While what I am saying might seem offensive, it’s still true.… Read more »
Suzanne Morgan
Guest
Suzanne Morgan
11 years 7 months ago
What a fantastic example of how statistics can be misused! We must be careful not to jump to conclusions. When a study states that more women then men are looking to leave their executive positions it can be fodder for those who have predetermined opinions. To conclude that women are less “hard-wired” for success is one possible reason of several other possible reasons, none of which are stated by the study. David, if statistics would help you to assess your opinion, 7 of 7 (100%) disagree with you thus far. Perhaps it would help to focus less on the “why.” I find it helpful to know that the vast majority of respondents agree that having an imbalance of gender and ethnicity represented in any organization is unhealthy. Without further details from this study, we can only draw conclusions as to the “why” more women want to leave executive positions. Many respondents have valuable suggestions for companies that want to tap into the best talent they can find. Offering programs and creating an environment that supports… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
11 years 6 months ago

‘Designknowsmore” has offered some excellent suggestions. Finally some realistic ideas. None of them too radical.

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