Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

‘The Great Breakup’ — Companies Won’t Budge, So Women Leaders Are Moving On

It’s time to reframe what many women leaders face: It's not about work-life balance, but what's happening now can be called a life-work-extra work crisis.
By Leon Kaye
Women Leaders

Employees proved during the pandemic that they are more than capable of stepping up, and they are seeking to be rewarded — and trusted — in kind. But many companies’ leadership still view the workplace through a 20th-century lens. The result is that many current and would-be women leaders are moving on from their organizations.

It's a pipeline of talent that’s broken at both ends. According to a joint LeanIn.Org and McKinsey study, on one end is the “broken rung” problem. For the eighth year in a row, women are being held back in corporate America: For every 100 men who are promoted from an entry level to manager, only 87 women score a promotion, and that number declines to 82 for women of color. Meanwhile, more women leaders are leaving companies; for every woman at the director level who gets promoted, two women directors are leaving their companies. Add what’s happening with junior and the more senior women leaders, and it’s clear women face daunting odds when it comes to achieving equality and equity in the workplace.

What some are now calling the “great breakup” is a vicious cycle, or should we say what’s happening is more linear as it’s gone from a cycle to, now, a mass exit. As women leaders watch their peers head for the doors, they do the same. To say the pipeline of talent is broken is an understatement: At this rate, it’s beyond repair. The pipe has busted.

Editor's note: Be sure to subscribe to our Brands Taking Stands newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday.

So, what’s going on? At the highest level, it’s easy for a male CEO to proclaim a grandiose return to the office when he doesn’t face the same pressures as many women executives, many of whom are forced to make an impossible balancing act.

It’s not just the life-work balance that we’ve long been hearing about: It’s time to reframe what women face as the life-work-extra work balance. Bottom line: Women leaders believe they are under-recognized while being overworked. Why? The LeanIn-McKinsey study found that women leaders are tasked with initiatives such as supporting employees’ well-being and ensuring DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) at a clip higher than their male peers, but aren’t compensated for it. And perhaps even more infuriating, 40 percent of women said such work isn’t acknowledged within their performance reviews.

In the end, it’s hard to ask for a raise when a good amount of one's work isn’t recognized in the first place.

When researchers asked women why they are leaving their employers, the three largest factors were: facing headwinds, such as constant microaggressions at the office; often being mistaken for someone more junior, at a rate twice that of men; and 37 percent said they experienced a coworker receiving credit for their ideas, compared to only 27 percent of men.

Combine the limitations of advancing their careers with the ongoing demands at work and home, and it’s hardly a wonder why women are leaving, and the data backs them up. As one women executive responded to the study: “For the first time in my career, we’re seeing people leaving and going to companies with a more generous work from home policy. So I dug into the data, and I realized something about every single person leaving. They were all women.”

Image credit: Yan Krukov via Pexels

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye