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Why Women Stay: The Annual Report

Why Women Stay
Inaugural Report
Why 60% of your female colleagues are thinking about leaving in 2024

Women in today’s workplace encounter unprecedented challenges to building a sustainable and purposeful career. For organizations committed to gender equity and eager to cultivate a strong pipeline of women leaders, the current challenges demand a new approach focused on investing in cultivating leaders and crafting a culture where they can stay, grow, and thrive.

Built upon years of successful collaboration with thousands of mid-career women at leading enterprise companies, our inaugural Why Women Stay Report explores the leading reasons why women decide to stay engaged and build a lasting career. Combined with insights from leading executives and industry luminaries, the report shares actionable steps for organizations to drive meaningful change for women at every level.

Welcome from Velvet Suite CEO and Founder of The She-Suite

Every woman’s story is a testament to resilience, drive, and the search for more purpose-driven life. Over the past decade at The She-Suite®, (the female focused initiative of Velvet Suite) we’ve had the privilege of being a part of thousands of these global stories. Our mission at The She-Suite has always been to redefine modern leadership for working women and to amplify the success of a new league of women leaders. We define our success based on the professional and personal impact of our alumni.

We’ve collaborated closely with these remarkable women, hearing their voices, experiences, aspirations, and about their hidden barriers. Through our inaugural report, we celebrate and channel these stories into a roadmap for organizations to create more sustainable and joyful careers for women.

I am deeply optimistic about the future of women in the workplace. Women have achieved progress, broken barriers and, modeled what is truly possible when they stay. While choosing to stay is not always the answer in every case, for many women there is another story untold. We know there is more work ahead to do together.

I hope our report inspires you to join us in architecting a brand-new leadership model for women worldwide, where all women can stay and thrive in the modern workplace. Thank you for joining us on this journey!

Introduction

Women were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with far more women than men leaving the workforce since 2020. The recovery for women has also been slow, needing nearly three years for women to regain their pre-pandemic participation in the workforce. Today, a volatile economy and efforts to return to the office threaten this recovery, creating disproportionate risks to women and their success.

What does it mean for women to “stay”?

“Staying” transcends retention alone. The focus of our study is to help organizations build an environment and culture where women want to stay, even when that choice is not always possible. When successful, these organizations are more competitive in attracting, advancing, and retaining women leaders.

These challenges are especially pronounced for mid-career women, who are leaving their positions at the highest rates in years. Asked to do more with less time, resources, and flexibility, women leaders are burning out and moving on. Women are not ignoring these issues—82% of mid-career women reflect regularly on their decision to stay, with 20% reflecting on it very often. Our work examines what women reflect on in these critical moments, and how they evaluate if their current organization is a place they want to stay.

What’s the #1 reason you stay at your current company?
0%
Purpose Powered
Leadership
0%
Career
Sustainability
0%
Compensation and
Benefits
0%
Visibility and
Recognition
0%
Strong Manager
and Allies
In Her Words: Retention In Action
Retention
In Action
In her words:
Dana Rixter
Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, BAE Systems Inc.
Retention
In Action
In her words:
Jesma Johnson
Senior Director of Global
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,
Colgate-Palmolive
Why do women stay?
It’s more than pay.

Women leaders are demanding more than competitive pay to stay, with only 13% ranking monetary rewards as their most important factor. Continue reading to explore what matters most to women and learn how Velvet Suite has helped Fortune 1000 companies achieve a 30% increase in retention of women, compared to those that have not yet invested in strategies to address these important retention factors.

5 Key Findings:
1
Women Stay for Purpose Powered Leadership
Purpose outperforms all other reasons why women want to stay with their current company.

Women in our study ranked purpose as the top retention factor, with 22% prioritizing it—significantly ahead of the next highest categories (13%). Purpose also unlocks lasting engagement, sustaining and channeling motivation towards shared objectives.

What is Purpose Powered Leadership?

“Purpose powered” leadership represents the degree to which women feel they are in leadership roles that align with their values, skills, and aspirations, as well as the company’s broader mission and purpose.

The Challenge:

Women without a clear sense of purpose frequently face challenges advancing their own careers, further compounding their struggles with finding deeper purpose in their work. When their workflow is not aligned with the company’s sense of purpose, this creates an environment for heightened stress and burnout.

Women seek purposeful work, but less than half find it without the right opportunities.

60 out of 100 women do not feel fulfilled by their role.

Taking Action: Building Purpose

Mid-career women stay engaged where they are invited to be purposeful leaders.

Discovering Individual Purpose:

Support women in discovering and codifying their individual mission, vision, purpose, and values. Without opportunities for introspection and expression, building shared purpose becomes extremely challenging.

Setting Holistic Goals:

When women set professional and personal goals together, their goals become more synergistic, pragmatic, and purposeful. Organizations can ensure this happens by promoting and allocating resources that enable women and their managers to adopt a more holistic approach to goal-setting.

Driving Purposeful Advancement:

Advancement comes in many forms, and all of them work together to infuse roles with greater purpose. Even when promotions aren’t possible, managers can leverage stretch assignments, high profile projects, and other leadership opportunities.

In Her Words: Purpose In Action
Purpose
In Action
In her words:
Christine Cocrane
Senor Vice President, Strategy & Transformation, LMI
2
Women Stay for Career Sustainability
Women stay when they are confident that their career will evolve with their personal milestones, goals, and values.

Flexibility is an important short-term driver of career sustainability, with the majority of women demanding greater control over where and when they work. However, the majority of midcareer women still have poor visibility into how their current role can grow into an expansive and productive career at their company. Inadequate planning leads to overlooked obstacles, and fails to catalyze change when needed, heightening the chances of women being pushed out. While having a clear long-term plan is essential, true career sustainability hinges on weaving work and life milestones into a cohesive vision.

What is Career Sustainability?

A sustainable career is one where the person is healthy, happy, and productive over time. For our study, career sustainability reflects the degree to which women have confidence that their role will adapt to both professional and personal changes without creating unmanageable conflicts.

The Challenge:

Almost half of women lack clarity and confidence in their short term career plan—the anchor for any long-term planning. The clarity only worsens as women look further ahead at their careers. Rather than the standard “one-size-fits-all” growth paths, women are advocating for more personalized career planning that includes a shared vision for development and progression.

Women aren’t feeling clear or confident about their career trajectory, especially over the long term. Only:
Short-Term Plan
0%
Of women have a clearly defined short-term career plan
Work-Life Integration
0%
Of women feel they effectively integrate their professional and personal life
Long-Term Vision
0%
Of women have a clear and sustainable long-term career plan and vision
Taking Action: Building Sustainability

Mid-career women stay engaged where they are invited to be purposeful leaders.

Personalize Planning:

Organizations must proactively encourage and facilitate personalized career roadmaps. Rooted in each woman’s individual mission, vision, purpose, and values (M.V.P. + V), these plans should be flexible, easily shareable, and ultimately help women prioritize decisions more holistically and sustainably.

Multiply Mentorship:

Connect women with formal and informal mentors at all levels by lowering the barriers to find and serve as mentors. Access to omnidirectional mentorship provides women with firsthand insights into tackling sustainability challenges at each stage of their career journey, from advancing into new roles, through larger changes such as navigating a global move or returning from a career pause.

Improve Re-Onboardiing and Returnship

Women are more likely than men to need and take extended leaves of absences over the course of their career. Pauses to move, raise children, or care for elderly parents challenge career sustainability, especially when organizations do not invest in improving the experience of returning to work. Effective companies build flexible pathways for women to ramp up, systemically enhance the career mobility of women, and allow women to explore the sustainability of different roles and responsibilities.

In Her Words: Sustainability in Action
Sustainability In Action
In her words:
Dana Rixter
Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, BAE Systems Inc.
Sustainability In Action
In her words:
Christine Cocrane
Senor Vice President, Strategy & Transformation, LMI
3
Women Stay for Visibility and Recognition
Recognition underpins how women feel about their value at work, and motivates them to stay and do their best work.

While this is also true for men, achieving consistent visibility and recognition poses unique challenges for women. Despite hard-fought career gains, mid-career women often find their efforts overshadowed or undervalued. What’s more, these challenges aren’t always external. In what’s termed “intentional invisibility,” many women leaders downplay their accomplishments, wary of the backlash that success often incites at levels and in workplaces where most leaders are men. These dynamics highlight that the greater value of recognition lies in its collective impact. When women see their counterparts earn meaningful appreciation, it magnifies their own sense of potential and reinforces the difference that women leaders can make.

The Challenge:

Women are deeply aware of the importance of visibility and recognition to their career advancement and outcomes. However, women face distinct challenges in ensuring their efforts are adequately acknowledged and valued. Women receive recognition less frequently than their male counterparts, and a higher proportion of women report feeling entirely unrecognized.

Women stay where they feel seen.

41 in 100 women feel under-recognized at work.

Dr. Meisha-Ann Martin
Senior Director, People Analytics & Research, Workhuman

“When women feel supported and recognized in the workplace, it elevates the whole culture. Leaders must see an investment in their female employees as an investment in the business as a whole. While companies have made incredible progress over the years, there is still so much work to be done, and that work starts with creating a culture of belonging for everyone.”

Taking Action: Building Visibility
Measure Recognition Quality:

Confirm recognition programs track both the quantity and quality of acknowledgment that women receive. By using this data to direct resources and action, businesses can better hold leaders accountable for ensuring more equitable recognition.

Profile Success:

Create platforms where women can share their successes and stories. This could be in the form of cohort-based programs, monthly spotlight features, panels, or internal news articles. Celebrate their achievements openly, setting a tone that recognizes women’s accomplishments and promotes their visibility.

Upskill Managers:

Even the best people managers have recognition blindspots. By equipping managers to better identify and mitigate biases, they can help all team members provide more effective, balanced, and tailored recognition.

In Her Words: Visibility In Action
Visibility
In Action
In her words:
Jesma Johnson
Senior Director of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Colgate-Palmolive
4
Women Stay for Strong Managers and Allies
Strong manager relationships also rank among the top five reasons women choose to stay with their companies.

Beyond the structured support managers offer, women particularly value a supportive and inclusive workplace culture. They look for genuine acts of allyship, hoping to see evidence that those around them—from leaders to peers—are genuinely rooting for and sharing in their success. Paired together, strong managers and allies provide women with the foundational relationships necessary to forge a sustainable career.

What makes a strong manager or ally?

Strong managers focus on building trust and guiding others towards realizing their professional potential. Strong allies can be broadly defined as those that actively and consistently support the success of women within their sphere of influence.

The Challenge:

Women only invest back in their organizations when they have supportive managers and colleagues who champion their growth, amplify their contributions, and genuinely back their aspirations. In mid-career positions, the allyship divide is prominent: 67% of men are confident in their role as allies, yet only 36% of women find this to be true.

Circles of Support

Mid-career women have the strongest relationships with their managers, but there is significant room for progress at all levels of support.

Taking Action: Building Allyship
Strengthen Manager Relationships:

Managers require hands-on practice in promoting and encouraging women to voice their ideas, take on leadership roles, and actively participate in decisionmaking processes. To do this, managers need training and resources to infuse allyship into all stages of the employee journey, from hiring and onboarding, to collaboration and advocacy.

Involve Senior Leaders:

Women want more than symbolic interactions with senior leaders. Through meaningful dialogue and engagement, senior leaders underscore the value of women’s insights and sustain a shared vision for the company’s future.

Help Men Grow as Allies:

Allyship is a collective journey. By equipping men to better understand and address the unique challenges women face in the workplace, organizations can foster enhanced collaboration, understanding, and mutual growth.

In Her Words: Managers & Allies In Action
Managers & Allies In Action
In her words:
Jesma Johnson
Senior Director of Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Colgate-Palmolive
Managers & Allies In Action
In her words:
Jessica Myrice
Regional Clinical Advisor, AF Solutions Watchman Boston Scientific
David G. Smith, PhD

Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Co-author, Good Guys: How Men Can Be Better Allies for Women in the Workplace and Athena Rising: How and Why Men Should Mentor Women

“Although business leaders tend to focus exclusively on women in creating solutions for gender inequities at work (through women’s employee resource groups, women’s leadership development programs, annual celebrations), evidence shows this approach is shortsighted and doomed to fail. Male leaders have the ability to create organizational change when they are focused on intentional collaboration with women, becoming co-conspirators for systemic change. The message to all leaders: This only works if we go there together.”

5
Women Stay for Community and Belonging
Belonging is a powerful driver for women in their career choices.

Imagine this: sustaining a decades-long career at an organization where you constantly question your sense of belonging. Despite that scenario being wholly unviable, many women live it everyday at work. The barriers to belonging increase as women advance in their careers, affecting job satisfaction, motivation, and overall well-being.

What is belonging?

Belonging isn’t just about being a member of a team—it’s about feeling truly seen, heard, and valued. For women, a sense of belonging at work remains hard-earned, especially at higher levels of leadership.

The Challenge:

While building a sense of workplace belonging is a universal challenge, women, particularly at large companies, struggle more than men to experience belonging. For mid-career women leaders navigating the politics and hierarchies of these organizations, the path to feeling accepted, recognized, and genuinely connected is even steeper.

Women stay where they feel belonging 6 in 10 women feel they don’t have a strong community at work.

Women are at greater risk of leaving the workforce entirely when they also lack a strong community outside of work. Yet most organizations fail to support women in building an expansive community of support to sustain their careers through challenging moments.

Taking Action: Building Belonging
Elevate Affinity Groups:

While many organizations have Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or affinity groups, simply having them is not enough to ensure women experience community and build connections. It’s crucial to ensure these groups are well-resourced and feature women-focused programming, multiplying the impact of these communities as they develop and grow.

Celebrate Success:

Introduce or expand platforms where women can showcase their work, share in-depth insights, and celebrate successes. This not only amplifies their contributions but also fosters better networking, knowledge sharing, and deeper professional connections.

Encourage Work-Life Integration:

Understand and value the importance of outside-of-work communities. Support flexibility for women to engage in personal pursuits and community events, reinforcing their sense of belonging both inside and outside the workplace.

In Her Words: Belonging in Action
Belonging
In Action
In her words:
Christine Cocrane
Senior Vice President, Strategy & Transformation, LMI
In Her Words: The She-Suite Brand Leadership Institute Alumni
Jessica Myrice,
Regional Clinical Advisor, AF Solutions
Boston Scientific

“The Brand Leadership Institute makes you really sit down and do some soul searching. You have to peel back the onion. You have to get to the core and find out what do you really want out of this? What are you made of? Where do you want to go? What is your brand? When someone hears the name Jessica Myrice, what do I want them to think?”

“It’s important for people to know me as someone with good intentions, and your brand truly reflects who you are. Brand leadership helped me realize that. Personally, I’m a servant leader. The BLI showed me that I was exactly where I needed to be with Boston Scientific, which is why I’m so committed to this company, having been with them for over eight and a half years.”

“I have a bright future with them. I’ve worked hard to find mentors who support me, and I feel very fortunate to have them.”

Angie Volk,
US VP of Sales, 3M Medical Solutions Division
3M

“I was a part of the inaugural BLI cohort… And I have kind of a weird career path. At the time, I wasn’t really sure where all of those ‘chess moves’ were leading. I also didn’t feel like I had control over my own career journey at that point; I had just been letting other people point me in different directions. So, I was at the perfect point in time in my career to go through the (BLI) experience.

One big takeaway that I’ve carried with me from the program is whenever I feel like I’m getting steered a certain way, I now make sure to remind myself what my ultimate goals are. I try to make sure that the decision that I’m making leads towards that goal.”

Edwige Robinson,
Senior Vice President –Network Engineering & Operations
T-Mobile

“I was part of the 2016 cohort, and it was super amazing because I had just attended a women’s conference on Saturday, and Melissa had actually spoken there, and mentioned The Brand Leadership Institute. So I called Melissa that next week and said to her, I heard about this Brand Leadership Institute… and I don’t know what it is, but I need to do it. I had been in my role for over five years at that point, had some amazing reviews, but wasn’t getting promoted. But I knew one thing; I had to do something different to get different results”

And Melissa told me, “ ‘You know what? Let’s get rolling. Let’s work together.’ At that moment, I was in the mix for a lot of things, I had so much going on.”

“But I knew one thing; I had to do something different to get different results.”

Four Steps To Driving Change In Your Organization

Sustaining a workplace where women stay and excel is achievable for companies across all industries by leading with these guiding principles:

1
Build for Women:

Ensure there are career development and retention resources designed for women, factoring in the needs, barriers, and challenges they face inside and outside of work.

2
Involve Everyone:

Meaningful change requires getting everyone involved in learning how to support women. A more inclusive approach serves to build empathy, highlight successes, and reduce cultural barriers to women’s success.

3
Empower Managers:

So much of the experience for women depends on the relationship they have with their direct manager. Don’t assume that managers feel prepared to support the complex needs of women on their teams.

4
Don’t Let Up:

Building a workplace where women stay takes time, resources, and sustained commitment. Define short- and long- term success measures to make progress tangible.

The She-Suite Difference

We strive to empower women to find their place to stay, grow, and lead with their whole lives. We partner with leading enterprise organizations to build a culture where everyone knows how to invest in women, driving greater advancement, retention, and results.

OUR FUTURE READY ALUMNI ARE
30%
less likely to leave
3X
more likely to advance

Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story. We believe the voices of our alumni best highlight the spirit of of our collective success:

“I would question why I didn’t get a position or promotion…my BLI experience helped understand what I needed to do to stay…”
- BLI Alumni at Elevance Health
“BLI helped spur conversations with my VP stating that they understand my value to the organization and are invested in my growth and development.”
- BLI Alumni at AstraZeneca
“After participating I realized that being selected for BLI showed me how much I am valued at my company.”
- BLI Alumni at BAE Systems
Contact us
To learn more about our insights and how we can bring value to your organization. Reach out to us at info@theshesuite.com or call us at 800.790.7630, 703-349-3706 extension 407
Data and Methodology

We developed this report using data from the following sources:

  • 2023 Brand Leadership Institute (BLI Alumni Survey)
  • 2021-2022 BLI Pre-Participation and Post-Participation Surveys
  • Client reported data from 2021-2023
  • Interviews with BLI alumni and client executives

Based on sampling size requirements, we present our findings with a confidence level of 95% with a 5% margin of error. Unless otherwise noted, benchmarks are derived from BLI participant survey responses before they participated in the program, thus representing a sample of the control group (non-participants). In some cases, quotes are lightly edited for concision or clarity.

About the Study

We thank you for your interest in creating a workplace where all women thrive! We hope our research helps you explore and take action on this human and business imperative. Our research included multiple years of survey data, with more than 700 individual respondents from 11 companies, between BLI participants, their managers, and executive sponsors. Our survey respondents are primarily mid-career women at large (1000+ employee) enterprise organizations.

Acknowledgments

We proudly acknowledge the following partners for sharing their data and stories with us for this report:

Footnotes
1 Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Woman labor participation 57.7% as of August 2023, up from pandemic low of 54.6%.
2 Source: McKinsey Women in the Workplace 2022 Report: Women leader turnover increased from 7.5% in 2020 to 10.8% in 2022.
3 Source: Brand Leadership Institute (™) 2023 Alumni Survey.
4 Based on Brand Leadership Institute (™) client reported turnover data from 2021-2023.
6 Source: McKinsey (2023). 2023 Women in the Workplace. This study found that 78% of women rank working remotely as a key benefit, and 68% of women rank flexible work schedules as a key benefit
7 Source: Ans De Vos, Béatrice I.J.M. Van der Heijden, Jos Akkermans,Sustainable careers: Towards a conceptual model, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Volume 117, 2020, 103196, ISSN 0001-8791, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2018.06.011.(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001879118300769)
8 Source: Herr, J., Roy, R., & Klerman, J. A. (2020). Gender Differences in Needing and Taking Leave. Produced for the U.S. Department of Labor, Chief Evaluation Office. Rockville, MD: Abt Associates Inc. The study found that compared to men, more women need leave (24% vs. 17%) and take leave (18% vs. 14%).
9 Source: Great Place to Work (2023). Creating a Culture of Recognition. Study found 37% of respondents indicate recognition as the most important driver of their best work. Next highest response was 13% (self-motivated).
10 Source: Ballakrishnen, S., Fielding-Singh, P., & Magliozzi, D. (2019). Intentional Invisibility: Professional Women and the Navigation of Workplace Constraints. Sociological Perspectives, 62(1), 23–41. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26618393
11 Source: Achievers (2023). 2023 Engagement and Retention Report. Weekly Recognition- Men 21%, Women 15%. Never Recognized- Women 17%, Men: 12%.
12 Source: Harvard Business Review (2022). Research: Men Are Worse Allies Than They Think.
13 Source: Achievers (2021). 2021 Culture Report on Belonging at Work. In their study, only 22% of women reported feeling a strong sense of belonging compared to 31% of men.
14 In our study, 10% of women reported lacking a community of support outside of work.
15 The margin of error for the 2023 Alumni Survey is 10%.
16 Based on our Brand Leadership Institute (™) client reported data and McKinsey’s 2022 Women in the Workplace study benchmarks.
17 Based on our Brand Leadership Institute (™) client reported data and Society for Human Resources Management benchmarks.
18 The margin of error for the 2023 Alumni Survey is 10%.
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