Why Women’s Retention Has Failed (and the Truth on How to Improve Employee Engagement)


Women’s retention has failed. The question of how to improve employee engagement for women mystifies even the most progressive of organizations. Only 4% of CEO’s at S&P 500 companies are female.1 What gives? Countless programs have been launched, but clearly after decades of trying to close the leadership gap, caring and succeeding are clearly not synonymous. The politically correct leaders cannot refuse the suggestion to launch. Then, volunteers are gathered, and given scant resources. They are launched because it’s the “right thing to do,” so they aren’t done right. The absence of a strategic Women’s Retention Diagnostic Program assures inevitable failure. During Women’s History Month, we present to you the gift that keeps on giving: the essential components of a permanent and universal solution to retain successful women to lead our businesses through the 21st century. It hinges on real data coupled with the role that managers play in its implementation, one of the most commonly overlooked success drivers.

How to Improve Employee Engagement for Women

What is a Women’s Retention Diagnostic Program?

While many organizations feel that they have put in place a valid development or retention program for women, very few have the right players (or data) in the lineup. A Women’s Retention Diagnostic Program engages women by clearly understanding why top talent is leaving, when they are leaving (or disengaging), what is really behind the disengagement, and how to move forward. Dynamic feedback is the true backbone of a Retention Diagnostic and includes:

  1. Stakeholder stay interviews
  2. Focus groups
  3. Alumni exit interviews with former female leadership
  4. Pulse surveys

A diagnostic is data-driven by nature. Ask intelligent questions by incorporating Commitment Indicators (CAPLET Methodology) to directly capture the pulse of commitment within the workforce. When we gather data with precision, feedback from women, their managers, and top leadership can clearly identify what gaps exist. Analyze the data with an eye to trends across different levels, departments, and populations. Build a customized Women’s Retention Strategy program based on the diagnostic to attract, retain, and develop top female leadership. Until companies put one into place, their efforts will inevitably fail, leading them to become part of the gender gap statistics.

The Manager’s Role in a Retention Program

A Women’s Retention Program is not about just the women. A Women’s Retention Program arms managers and leadership with tools that transfer intellectual capital (and relationship capital) across the enterprise. As communication determines the strength of any relationship, skill building exercises that promote engaging and powerful dialogue between managers and female employees is critical. Provide tools for success to build mentorship, especially between male managers and female direct reports.


Customization plays a big part in the program’s success. Designing manager training to reinforce the unique teachings of the Women’s Retention Diagnostic overcomes company specific problems. A focus group interview of working mothers, for example, gives managers an idea of how to best mobilize the team to accommodate emergencies that happen for women with young children at their specific company. Managers reap the benefit of feedback from alumni exit interviews and commitment surveys which reveal the signs and symptoms of disengagement at the organization. Organizations may use feedback from exit surveys to create a “warning signs” list for female employees displaying signals that they are about to leave. The higher the degree of customization in a Women’s Retention Program, the more benefit it offers to managers (and leadership) who have critical impact to an employee’s engagement.


Employee Retention Idea #43

Career Development Conversations: When companies aim to retain high performing women, they often neglect to present a vision of the future and a long term strategy. This is a huge success driver. Giving rock stars an appetite for the rewards to come if they stay, increases the chance they will stay. High performing companies show they value their high performers with Career Development Conversations at least once or twice per year. Development Conversations are different from Performance Appraisals, which focus on the past. Here’s what to do:

  1. Set aside 15-20 minutes (put phone away)
  2. Invite high-performer to a surprisingly pleasant location (not your office)
  3. Guide an inspiring conversation around career tracks
  4. Open up lateral or vertical moves at the company
  5. Present success stories of other colleagues with similar backgrounds.

Talking through options and her interests in a direct, one-on-one format inspires a star player to value her future and career with you.

It is rare to find a company that takes real, data-driven action to support women at their company. If your company can take that step, then women will join, commit to stay, and outperform for incredible ROI. Retaining powerful women takes real data and smart application. For more information about a Women’s Retention Diagnostic Program to improve employee engagement at your company, please email requests@retensa.com.


1 Catalyst. Quick Take: Statistical Overview of Women in the Workplace. New York: Catalyst, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/statistical-overview-women-workforce


Posted: 3/23/2017

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