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Women in the Workplace: Don't Let the Talent Go!

by Kristen Ross

Women comprise a significant segment of the workforce, yet many of them are opting to leave their jobs.

According to the Monthly Labor Review there has been a slight upward trend of women exiting the workforce over the past 10 years. The publicationreports that 75.3 percent of women ages 25 to 54 were in the workforce in 2005 — a decrease from 76.8 percent in 1999.

“With demographic trends already contributing to talent shortages, organizations simply can’t afford to lose talented and educated women at the rate they are exiting the workforce,” said Dr. Erica Desrosiers, Director of Organization and Management Development for PepsiCo, Inc.

There are distinct challenges that women face in the workplace. Many companies are exploring these issues and focusing initiatives on obtaining, engaging, and retaining women leaders in the workplace. “This is a concern because significant investments are made in acquiring talent, and women leaving the workforce in great numbers amounts to a loss of resources and talent,” Desrosiers said.

Organizations should offer and facilitate authenticity, balance, and challenge, says Desrosiers, referring to what is known as the ABC model (Mainiero & Sullivan, 2006). “When these three factors are present, women feel more engaged in their career, they are usually more satisfied, which makes them more inclined to stay,” she said. 

Incorporating authenticity is valuable because it allows women to feel more accepted and comfortable at work, says Dr. Beverly Tarulli, Vice President of Organization and Management Development for PepsiCo. “The concept of ‘bringing one’s whole self to work’ is important.”

Authenticity is about being genuine and working in an environment that honors one’s gender, culture, education, and family values. It is essential to welcome authenticity in the workplace so employees are themselves and more at ease, ultimately contributing to higher job satisfaction and contribution to the organization. Women should feel like they are able to be consistent in all domains of life, whether they are at work or home.
Tarulli also acknowledges the importance of recognizing employees’ needs to achieve balance. “Work–life harmony is an ongoing challenge. It’s becoming more difficult to balance the requirements of a job with other life responsibilities,” Tarulli said.

One thing Tarulli sees as unique to women is they are more likely than men to leave the workforce at different stages in their lives for personal reasons, such as choosing to stay home with children or caring for an aging parent. “Women sometimes reach a certain level and then take time out of their work career, which can sometimes be a factor in getting to the top of the corporation,” she said.

Supporting this point, the Monthly Labor Review specifically finds that a main, increasing reason for women dropping out of the workforce is to care for their children. Statistics show that this is most prevalent with educated, married women with preschool children. It also reports that from 1994 to 2005, the workforce participation rate of married mothers with higher levels of education — those with a bachelor’s degree or beyond — declined by 3.2 percent.

Job enjoyment is another aspect for organizations to consider. “Intrinsic motivation for work helps keep employees around,” Tarulli said. This is one reason why it is important to provide challenge in the workplace and offer variety and development opportunities. Maintaining interest is a key for retaining employees, she says. 

Another focus area for PepsiCo this year is “connectivity.” Internal research indicated that women are looking for ways to enhance their careers through networking, mentoring, and staying connected with other women in the organization. Currently they are implementing the PepsiCo Women’s Connection Web site to help engage women company–wide. The site will highlight topics on career networking, family and home, and health and well–being.

It is important to note that work–life harmony, along with other issues that concern women, is not exclusive to women — such challenges can be a struggle for men as well. According to Tarulli and Desrosiers, it just seems to be more acute for women. Many company initiatives may be driven by the needs of women, but these outcomes are often beneficial to and appreciated by the entire workforce.

Tarulli and Desrosiers recently presented on this topic at the conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. They were joined by other experts who focus on engaging and retaining women from Florida International University, Deloitte, and IBM.