Would you work here or leave?

Keeping talented women in a company requires a flexible approach which offers career opportunities and a female-friendly culture, writes Jane Kirk

Understanding what women want from an employer is crucial. A survey of more than 650 women found that, across functions, nationalities and sectors, women want to know they are in a company with the right brand and values where they can further their career.

Flexible working is important to staying with an employer, but career opportunity and culture are critical. So it’s essential that employers communicate with women throughout their careers, to ensure they know there are the right opportunities on offer, they will be valued and have role models to aspire to.

“It’s not one size fits all. To retain all talent you need to offer a suite of options to meet different motivations and needs, and support various life and career stages. It’s about offering customised solutions,” says Leena Nair, global senior vice president, leadership and organisational development, at Unilever.

To retain all talent you need to offer a suite of options to meet different motivations and needs, and support various life and career stages

This means global initiatives adapted to make them relevant to specific cultural contexts. To attract and retain female talent in the Middle East, for example, parents need to feel an employer offers a safe place to work. It’s about creating an environment where all kinds of people are comfortable. If you can’t say you would want your daughter to work in the organisation, it’s not there yet.

It is equally important to recognise that many people leave a company because of their experiences with line managers. “It’s really important to give line managers training so they have a better understanding of the barriers many women face and can offer solutions,” says Michelle Fullerton, Bank of America Merrill Lynch head of diversity and inclusion in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “Men don’t always perceive barriers the same as women, so development for all managers can create positive change and results.”

Women need additional help to overcome behaviour that can prevent them from advancing, such as building internal and external networks in the way their male peers do.

“We have several programmes designed to develop and nurture female talent, helping them to identify mentors and career opportunities,” says Xanic Jones, diversity specialist for EMEA at Citi. “Coaching for Success, for example, is tailored for emerging mid-career female talent and helps improve retention, increase promotion and support greater internal mobility.”

Forward-thinking companies also address the need for role models. Communicating a strong commitment to change and ensuring high-potential female employees know they can be a key part of this process, is an important part of retaining talent.

In an ideal world, specialised female development programmes would not be needed but, until business culture has developed to adapt to all employee groups, both mainstream and specialist approaches will be needed to retain and develop women as part of the overall talent strategy.

“To have better run companies, a change in business culture that brings a broader sense of diversity is needed,” says Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30% Club. Success requires business leaders to own the talent agenda and place it centre stage.