How Do We Retain Our Female Talent?

Retention has been top of mind for employers over this tumultuous period under COVID-19. And no wonder – the talent shortage is estimated to have amounted to a staggering 40 million skilled workers worldwide, and this is expected to more than double in the next 8 years. It is therefore key that this talent shortage is examined through a gender lens.

We previously noted Deloitte’s findings that women and minorities have been more vulnerable to the changes wrought by the pandemic at work, revealing being more stressed than last year and nearly half feeling burned out.

Part of this may be due to mismatched expectations. For example, the availability of hybrid work has become a priority for employees, with women being 10% more likely than men to leave an organisation if hybrid work is not an option, and nonbinary-identifying employees being 18% more likely than both men and women to leave. However, a recent survey noted that the majority of APAC employers believe more work gets done in the office and in-office employees are higher performers which has worrying implication around performance reviews and promotions later on, particularly for women who are more likely to engage in remote work.

New research published by Harvard Business Review revealed a new aspect of gender-based assumptions that may also adversely impact women: loyalty. Highly qualified women are seen as 20% more likely to stay at an employer than their highly qualified male counterparts, who are perceived to prioritise career advancement over loyalty.

The researchers note that with these assumptions comes a worrying underlying set of potential behaviours: if employers assume women will be more loyal to their employer and not consider external opportunities that may advance their careers, they may be less inclined to engage women in pre-emptive retention efforts like raises, promotions, bonuses or increased responsibilities in the same way as male employees.

This aligns with TWF’s research in partnership with PwC and the Women Chief Executives Hong Kong group on gender diversity in the Hong Kong financial services sector that showed lack of career progression and other career opportunities are the top reasons why women leave their organisations.

So how should employers address some of these factors that may be affecting female retention rates?

Here are a few suggestions as a starting point:

  • Address potential biases through standardising inclusive retention practices. (please refer to our Success Markers for Effective Unconscious Gender Bias Strategies for ideas)
  • Recognise performance over presence.
  • Ensure middle management is involved with policy decisions and DEI discussions to promote their buy-in and foster a culture of inclusiveness.
  • Monitor whether high visibility projects are being fairly assigned across genders.
  • Implement work-life support policies and practices that recognise and accommodate non-work responsibilities.

We also need employees at all levels that are equipped with the knowledge and skills to challenge bias and be allies. This is what TWF seeks to do through our suite of Pipeline Initiatives: Male Allies Initiative, Mentoring Programme for Women Leaders, Reverse Mentoring Programme and our Boardroom Series for Women Leaders. Ultimately, we aim to create an ecosystem that actively recognises and supports gender equity and inclusion at all levels and in all sectors.

Talent has never been more valuable to organisations. Let’s ensure that policies, practices and cultures are reflective of the diverse needs of all employees, particularly women and minorities.

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The Women's Foundation