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Warning Signs of Women at Risk: Becoming Better Allies

Becoming Better Allies

While many organizations have implemented policies and procedures to retain and promote women in the workplace, women continue to be at risk and are leaving their leadership positions at a disturbing rate. Why has this trend persisted, and what are executives doing about it? Despite the creation of various think tanks and programs to tackle this issue, many corporations still struggle to change the status quo.

For decades, women have been systemically underrepresented in management positions and continue to face ongoing challenges unknown to their male counterparts. In the United States, only 37% of leadership positions are held by women, despite women comprising 47% of the workforce. Women are also at a disadvantage when it comes to equal pay, work-life balance, and more.

To create positive change, strategic action must be implemented—good intentions are simply not enough. It’s important to note that unless these actions begin with upper management, however, they will likely fall short and fail to make an impact. In addition to the unique value and perspective women contribute to leadership, it also makes good financial sense. Organizations that maintain strong female leadership often achieve better results—another compelling reason to address this issue head-on.

These disparities no longer align with the realities of today’s working women. It is up to leaders and corporations to take a proactive approach against this prevailing trend once and for all.

Six Proactive Strategies for HR Leadership

Fortunately, there are several ways organizations can respond to the situation. Starting at the top, executives must thoroughly examine their internal structure to identify existing gaps and patterns. By narrowing their focus and zooming in, they will be better equipped to approach the problem more strategically. Here are some specific actions leaders can implement:

1. Allocate time to understand the overall trend.

Former Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan is quoted as saying, “If you are unable to understand the cause of a problem, it is impossible to solve it.” Whether you choose to read articles, watch videos, or listen to audio recordings to increase your understanding of the trends related to women in leadership, setting aside the time to do so is critical. You can access various studies and statistics on this topic to further deepen your knowledge and awareness. By committing to this practice and making it a regular part of your leadership, you will be better equipped to implement effective policies and procedures.

2. Be bold about your commitment to this issue.

Acknowledging the existence of problems within your organization can be diffi cult. By approaching this issue with boldness and transparency, you will demonstrate your commitment to supporting women leaders in the workplace. Extending conversations to include other top-level executives, both within and outside your organization, can be a powerful way to discover both effective and ineffective methods for supporting and retaining women at all levels.

3. Familiarize yourself with what is happening inside your own company.

As a leader, you must examine the hard numbers. Failing to do so will leave you in the dark, unable to initiate meaningful change. Analyze the responses to questions such as, “What percentage of women comprise our workforce?” “How many women are in low-level management positions?” “ How many are high-level managers?” This information can be a powerful and useful guide for future decisionmaking processes within your organization.

Some of the potential causes behind these behaviors may include women feeling unsupported, overwhelmed, undervalued, unappreciated, and more. Once these signs are identified, it’s essential to implement a clear plan of action without delay.

4. Survey women who have left their positions.

Without knowing the reasons behind women leaving their positions, leaders will not have the information they need to effect change. Gathering data provides valuable insights into areas requiring targeted improvement. Surveys should be strategically crafted to provide leaders with detailed, in-depth data. Consider asking questions about why these women chose to leave their positions, as well as what conditions would have helped them stay.

5. Recognize behaviors during employee interactions.

Gain valuable insights about whether employees may be at-risk by observing their behaviors. Collaborate with managers by extending this training to them so they, too, can identify warning signs. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Disengagement/checking out mentally and emotionally
  • Absenteeism/tardiness
  • Withdrawn/self-isolating
  • Apathy towards work and/or colleagues


Some of the potential causes behind these behaviors may include women feeling unsupported, overwhelmed, undervalued, unappreciated, and more. Once these signs are identified, it’s essential to implement a clear plan of action without delay.

6. Consult with experts in women leader retention.

Once you’ve assessed the structure of your organization and determined existing gaps and patterns, you will have a clearer picture of where you stand and where you need to devote more focus. While you may have policies and procedures in place, enlisting the help of professionals can be a game-changer. Experts specializing in the retention of female employees can help you create unique systems and structures that will enable you to support women and help them thrive in their roles, while identifying some of the hidden barriers within your organization that you may not be aware of.

Without strategic action in place to retain more women in leadership, organizations can expect to endure losses on multiple levels. While gender equality, career advancement, and female representation are all areas of concern, the impact goes beyond women leaders. Employees, both male and female, who work for women, are also impacted when women leave their jobs. This means other factors such as engagement, job performance, and profitability are all affected by the loss of women in leadership. Something must change. As Deepak Chopra wisely put it, “Instead of thinking out of the box, get rid of the box.” It’s time for leaders to discard old ways of thinking and behaving when it comes to retaining women leaders and to approach this issue with a fresh, new perspective and bold action.