I hosted a most unusual gathering of my A+ professional women friends recently. I call them A+ because they are all lovely people, hugely accomplished, and together, we comprise a local arm of a global sisterhood of women in a 'by-invitation-only' type of club. It should be noted that among the decision criteria for club membership, is that you would be happy to be stuck in an airport with this person, or to be a roommate with her in a hotel. Net: no divas.
What did I find unusual about this gathering?
Half of the women had left their jobs. The moves had one element in common: company values.
Yup, the women felt they had reached a breaking point where they didn't want to work for organizations and senior executives who acted like jerks, or who operated in a value-deficient manner inside the organization. Each of the organizations they left, by the way, is a household name.
What else did these women have in common? They are all executives in their 40s, and when they left their employer, they did not bother to line up another job. Apparently, the option of leaving, into an uncertain world, was better than staying where they were -- working for organizations who "did not get them" or "get it" when it came to how to behave.
At first, I thought this blog post would be about what companies should do to retain women like this. (Answer: To not only have company values, but to live them. A dusty binder on a bookshelf, or a slide in a recruiting presentation is not enough. The C-suite needs to care, and show they care in their actions and words.)
But then the bigger picture appeared. Could these departing women as executive employees merely be the canary in the coal mine? Could these departures also signal future purchasing departures from women who only want to spend dollars with companies and organizations who don't act like jerks?
Something to think about. Add Millennials and even a portion of the 99%ers to the "women with values population" and this could signal a sea change to come.
Has Change Already Begun?
I found myself instinctively acting in what I guess we can call "a post-canary" way recently. A dear friend is a business owner who had to deal with a law suit when the guy he put in charge acted in an unethical manner. It wasn't the first time this friend of mine had to pick up the pieces when his general managers (all men) acted poorly. My advice to him, "For goodness sake, hire a woman to run the place." Oddly enough, he just hired a woman in her 40's.
We need the guys. Don't get me wrong. Perhaps we just need more executives role modeling, for men and women alike, behavior fit for sustainable business success.
See today's WSJ for an article on an example of values-lacking behavior. The business action here was understandable, it was HOW it was handled that caused all the damaging ripples to date. (Thanks Penny Peters for the call out to the article.)
--------- Talk Back ------------
Are you seeing this?
I recall a Harvard Business Review feature some time ago that pointed to why women in their 40s were leaving. Then, the headline for me was that the pull and priority from family exceeded that of the workplace. While that is likely still a factor for many women in their 40's, it should be noted that for this particular group at my dinner party, none of them left because a family pull or priority.