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Human Truth Podcast | Ep. 06: Why Women in Leadership Are Leaving—And What to Do About It

Human Truth Podcast | Ep. 06: Why Women in Leadership Are Leaving—And What to Do About It

Welcome to The Human Truth Podcast where, each episode, we take a closer look at a popular workforce statistic ripped from the headlines and ask: Where’d it come from? Is it true? And why should we care?

In this episode, we examine this stat from McKinsey & Company: Two in three director-level or higher women are leaving their jobs, the highest rate in years. 

Host Ian Cook is joined by Dr. Lauren Tucker, CEO and founder of Do What Matters, to discuss why women in leadership are leaving their roles, and how building an inclusive workplace can help keep them. 

On the podcast this episode:

  • Host, Ian Cook is Visier’s VP of People Analytics
  • Guest, Dr. Lauren Tucker, CEO and founder of Do What Matters: Dr. Lauren Tucker is founder and CEO of Do What Matters, a strategic management consultancy designed to help organizations and people leaders to go beyond DEI to discover, practice, and implement transformative talent management solutions for the 21st-century knowledge, information, and service-driven economy. The company is focused on moving organizations from intention and transactional remedies to actual impact with transformational strategies for change.

Further reading from the episode: 


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Episode transcript: 

Producer: Are you ready for the future of work? Visier’s Workplace Trends 2023 report is out now. Download for our top 10 trends to prepare for, including company culture and hybrid work, talent acquisition’s new paradigm, increase pay transparency and more. Visit visier.com/trends to get the report.

It’s the Human Truth Podcast, where each episode we examine a workforce statistic ripped from the headlines and ask, “Where did it come from? Is it accurate? And should we care?” Today we’re talking about why so many women in leadership are leaving their jobs. For McKinsey and Company’s 2022 Women in the Workplace Report, we learned that for every woman at the director level who gets promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company, the highest rate in years. Why is this happening? For that, let’s get into it with host Ian Cook and special guest Dr. Lauren Tucker, CEO and founder of Do What Matters.

Ian Cook: Hi, I am Ian Cook, the host of the Human Truth Podcast, where today we are talking about why women leaders are leaving their jobs at such alarming rates. To discuss this topic, I am joined by Dr. Lauren Tucker. She’s the CEO and founder of Do What Matters and Inclusive Management Consulting. So thank you for joining us today, Lauren.

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Thank you for having me.

Ian Cook: I’m really curious about the work you do. Inclusion is such an important topic. Can you share a little bit more about the work you do with Do What Matters?

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Yeah. We call ourselves an inclusion first consultancy. We truly believe that we need to get what we call go beyond DEI to help leaders and managers manage humans for the 21st century. We’ve seen a lot of DEI programs fail because they are standalone programs, they’re not integrated into the organizational structure of the company, and they narrowly focus on very US-centric issues around race and ethnicity, the negative experiences of certainly of Black Americans and women, et cetera. Don’t get me wrong, these are important issues, but what we’re finding is it’s typically symptomatic of broader negative experiences associated with toxic workplaces. And these workplaces are toxic because most of us who came in professional age in the late 20th century were raised by wolves and basically have not learned or re-skilled ourselves to manage the human diversity that we depend on in a knowledge-driven, creativity-driven economy. And so it’s a real mindset change. That’s what we’re trying to do. It is like pushing water uphill, but we are dedicated to doing it.

Ian Cook: Dedicated to that. There’s a lot of work, there’s a lot of movement to get there. Fantastic setup and thank you for sharing both the kind of action and the passion behind the mission you have. And one of the things that triggers the Human Truth podcast is data and the data behind things. So a particular stat that got the team super engaged this week was from McKinsey and Company. For every woman at the director level who’s getting promoted to the next level, two women directors are choosing to leave their company. And for me, that’s a pretty shocking ratio. For every one moving up, there’s moving out and again, you kind of related to this as a systemic thing, it’s a cultural thing. There’s an element of how we manage work. What do you think is at the heart of that for every one up, two are moving out of dynamic?

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Well, I think women have not gotten the kind of championship they deserve. I find myself, just being a female entrepreneur, I can honestly say I’ve got a lot of cheerleaders, people on the sideline who hope I win. There are a lot of people wanting to be coaches. I think they’re desiring to tell a lot of women what to do. Okay, fine, but I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have if I didn’t know kind of how to manage the situation. But I think very few women at mid-career are getting the kind of championship, whether they are in corporations or an entrepreneur like myself. Finding somebody who is willing to get in the game and use their time, talent, and treasure to make the plays that help you win, that help you make doing the hard yards just a bit easier is really a difficult thing. 

And I’ve also found that too many women that have broken through, that have made it are not looking backwards and putting their hand out to bring other women up. And so there’s that dynamic, too. And a lot of people, a lot of women like me to learn, “Don’t say that, don’t say that.” Well, let me just tell the truth here, and that is a truth that women in leadership positions have to face.

Ian Cook: No, I think you nailed it in the description there, because the same report covered another stat which, and it actually names the situation I think you’re describing really well. It’s called the broken rung, where being promoted to first time manager, for every hundred men who are promoted to that position, 87 women are also promoted. So it’s that move from being an individual contributor. You’ve got your skill set, you kind of know what you’re doing at work, but we know for good or bad that it’s not work, much as it’d like to be a meritocracy, it’s rarely a true, pure meritocracy. It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know and how they’re willing to help you and all of those other things. So again, in terms of this broken rung, would you just see that as a key part of the problem getting women into management or having women in management help bring more women into management? Is it about the pipeline of people coming towards management or are there other aspects that you think are important when we start to look at building diversity through growing people internally?

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Well, the stats that you brought up here indicate that the pipeline is broken. We have a huge amount of women coming through the pipeline and in fact, if you haven’t read it, there’s a great book called Of Boys and Men by, I believe his name is Richard Reeves. He talks about that there’s a crisis really in manhood around the world in terms of what is happening with men and boys, and I think that deserves a significant conversation. Again, lots of women going, “Lauren, don’t do this, Lauren don’t talk about this,” but we’ve really got to start bringing these things to the surface here. But I think in terms of women as well as Black mid-level employees, the pipeline is broken and we have to acknowledge that. 

We also have to stop telling ourselves these myths. I just was listening to Fareed Zakaria and I cannot remember the woman who is the editor-in-chief of The Economist. And if I hear anymore about meritocracy, free market, there is no such thing. We have to start acknowledging the realities here. And then we have to, once we acknowledge the realities and we shift our mindsets to realizing that the old ways and the old ideas and myths are not working, we can start to build solutions that at least become more fair, more transparent, hopefully more performance-based and make better decisions because we are really changing the processes that will impact or drive the behavior that we know we want to see. And hopefully that will ultimately start changing some psychology, as opposed to just trying to tell ourselves the myths or try to change psychology at the individual level.

Ian Cook: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting perspective. Again, we were going to have several conversations internally about the number of companies that made public facing DEI statements. I mean, the CEOs have been putting numbers out there and more recently there’s been a number of commentary around all of those investments in DEI are kind of being removed or actually people are having to wind back on the DEI progress. And so I was going to double click on something that you’ve been advocating for, which is that drive to change starts with inclusion before diversity. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that… you said again in your intro an inclusion first approach. I’m really curious what you mean by that and how you think that starts to build a systemic answer.

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Well, we know first of all, that most DEI programs are doomed to fail. We find ourselves even challenged as inclusion first management consultants to get corporate leaders to stop looking at DEI programs as standalone programs. And they are definitely doomed to fail because they are not integrated into the organizational strategy.

Ian Cook: That’s a really important point.

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Exactly, right? And so what happens, and it’s happened to us, when we see belt tightening happening, then the first thing to go are the consultants, the programs, et cetera, because the CEOs, they may talk a good game, but internally, they are not understanding that their mindset has to change. And the other thing is DEI won’t fix a broken system. When you’ve got a system of talent abuse and the legacy of talent abuse from the 20th century and it still continues to shape the workplace culture and make them toxic, DEI isn’t going to fix that.

Ian Cook: Yeah, there’s an element, again, I loved what you were saying. It’s like when DEI is something else to do on a discretionary spend, you’re almost dooming it to failure before you start. You’re saying, “Oh, this is an add-on.” We kind of do the business over here and then we do this diversity thing over here. You’re almost by its nature making those things exclusive. So that sounds like that that’s a big part of, again, why you would advocate for inclusion first. So what does it mean to be inclusion first?

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Well, first of all, one of the things that makes us different at Do What Matters is that we really focus in on the operational inefficiencies that not only foster bias and exclusion, but it also undermines the creativity and innovation that drives growth for the future. So we try to at least help business leaders who want to lean in to learn that this isn’t just about something over to the side, this is about their business and whether their business is going to be able to unleash that talent that they’re going to need to grow in a knowledge and creativity-driven economy.

So we focus very much on minimizing those operational inefficiencies through best practices in terms of talent management, best practices in terms of what we call inclusive creativity, which is applicable to either the making of products, content or the development or design of services. There are ways that basically everything that we do is to help companies unleash the potential of their talent by making sure that not only everybody feels safe, valued, and productive, but that leaders understand how they may build a new relationship with talent that is a two-way street and not a highway and a bike path, which is what it’s been for centuries and things.

Ian Cook: Yeah, formerly. And I’ll just share a story that a client shared with me around this that they were looking at how do we move the needle, and the fundamental element that they came back to from having done the analysis, it wasn’t a DEI program, it was actually mobility of all talent within the organization. So equal access to growth opportunities, equal access to learning opportunities, equal access to mentoring and coaching opportunities so that wherever you were in the business, your talent could be unleashed for the business. And so they put their money towards that as opposed to specifically a diversity-labeled initiative. This was just like, “Let’s grow everybody as fast as we can.”

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Exactly. 

Ian Cook: And I think that starts to speak to a little bit what you’re talking about, is this is an inclusive framing. It also sounds like you’re putting it at the heart of what the business is trying to do as opposed to making it something else. Is that a fair way-

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Exactly. Exactly. I mean, as I tell my team, we’re inclusion management consultants. Two-thirds of what we do is management consulting. And what we find is that there’s tremendous legacy inefficiencies in the way that we hire, interview talent, we track talent and then tremendously unfair practices in terms and inefficient practices in terms of how we advance talent. And if we learn some new ways of managing and these are the things that we come into teach our clients, then increased diversity and representation is an output of those because it can’t help but be, because we’re going to embrace the diversity and the complexity of human talent and so we’re going to naturally get diversity and greater representation, but it is inclusion that’s the input. Diversity and greater representation is the output.

Ian Cook: Fascinating concept. We’re going to explore that in a little bit further, but I’m going to take us to break right now.

Producer: What will be the top workplace trends in 2023? We’ve got some predictions and suggestions for how to prepare in our annual report, Workplace Trends 2023: Brace for a Mutual Impact, out now. Read about HR’s ascension to the C-suite, talent and acquisition’s new paradigm, increased pay transparency and more visier.com/trends to download.

Ian Cook: Excellent. So we’re back, and I’m Ian Cook, the host of the Human Truth podcast from Visier. Today I have been joined by Dr. Lauren Tucker and she’s the CEO and founder of Do What Matters, an inclusive Management consultancy. And we’re talking about women and opportunities to grow in their careers and inclusivity as an operating system inside an organization. But before we went to break, Dr. Tucker, you were explaining the inclusive practice is an input. It’s a way of thinking, it’s a way of working that lead to diversity as an output. I find that very insightful. I think probably a lot of light bulbs going off for a few people. They certainly were for me. So again, curious to double click on that whole concept. If you were talking to a CEO or when you go into the C-suite and you’re bringing this notion of you need an inclusive set of practices, what are you telling them of why they need it? What are you telling them are the downsides of not having it in place?

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Well, one of the first things we do is what we call the desired future assessment. And we have three pillars of our company. One is we’re inclusion first, but two is that we’re solutions focused, and that means we are about building solutions rather than what we call solving problems. And then, we develop behavior-based solutions to help them implement the solutions that we build. But the desired future piece is really critical because what we typically do is something that in the day-to-day, most business leaders, they don’t make space to do. And that is to truly identify, “Well what’s your desired future look like?”

We spend so much time arguing about how we got lost, but you don’t use a GPS to find out how you got lost. You use a GPS to figure out where you want to go and then you can certainly debate over the pathways and strategies to get there, but to have clarity on what the future, what is it specifically, what does success look like? Then what we do is help them use inclusion management practices to get them where they want to go. So we automatically start linking our activity with what the C-suite wants to have happen and what the C-suite defines as success.

Ian Cook: Yeah, so you’re layering that set of practices of how you run your business into the goals, targets, outcomes for the organization. And I mean, inclusiveness in general, there’s so much strong evidence about how it shapes innovation, how it helps you reflect the communities in which you work, how it gives some level of resilience because you’re tapping into many communities. A diverse ecosystem is a stable ecosystem on our planet. When they get a little bit linear, they tend to end up being weaker. I think all of those things are really powerful supporters of the approach you’re talking about.

Something that’s been happening recently, and I’m curious again both on your thoughts of how this helps inclusive practices and whether you’ve seen any evidence of this, but the work from home or the hybrid, this balance of remote and office more increase, it’s opened up, for certain groups, it’s opened up more flexibility and access to work. Are you seeing that as part of the inclusivity toolbox or are even seeing it having effects on who and how you can bring people to work?

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Well, I think that we should have been doing this way before COVID, right? COVID’s a fascinating phenomenon that has had I think some good outcomes strangely enough, and one of them is it has made a lot of people question what does the future of work look like? Now, people were talking about this before COVID, it’s just accelerated and brought those conversations to the surface. And I kind of pick on Jamie Dimon of Chase. Full transparency, my business accounts are at Chase, but this kind of boomer mentality and again, full transparency, I’m a boomer, I’m a recovering boomer. And this idea of the office, it’s been reified in our minds.

I was just talking to someone the other day that’s struggling with this and I actually said, “So exactly why are you so hooked to the office? What is going on here?” I’m not saying that you shouldn’t get together and get together in person. What I am saying is we should have always been much more intentional and purposeful because Jamie Dimon can fly in every day in his helicopter and that’s expensed by Chase. But the average employee, whether male or female, has to pay perhaps upwards of $25,000 for childcare. They have to pay on average $5,000 for transportation to the office. 

I do a lot of reframing as you can see, and one of the reframes that I do is there is a cost of being an employee and it can be anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000, $50,000. Now you’re asking people, and they have to make that Sophie’s choice, especially for women. Do I still keep on with this job or is it more cost effective for me to stay at home with my kids if my employers feel I need to come to the office all the time? And so I think we need to be much more thoughtful, and I think with Generation Z, they need reasons to do that. They need reasons to come to the office. But you know what? There should have always been a much more purposeful use of the office and ways of training people on how to have more productive meetings, more inclusive meetings and how to use the technology that we were forced to learn to use during COVID. But now we need to come up with explicit, transparent protocols for how do we design the future of work as a hybrid plan to make sure that everybody feels safe, valued, heard and productive and that they have really great workplace experiences?

Ian Cook: Yeah. And it sounds like that, again, I love the focus on intentional. I’m seeing certain organizations who’ve really grasped that. They’re probably in the minority, but certain organizations who’ve really grasped that and are actually trying to work on it, and others are just hoping that colocation will somehow sort out whatever challenges they had. But it sounds like that intentional practice is a bit at the heart of this whole notion of how you become inclusive. So again, I know that client privilege is challenging, but I don’t know if you had a story or an example of an inclusivity practice or an area that you’ve helped start to build into an organization so people can get a sense of what would this looks like inside my organization? Because I think there’s a lot to be said for intentional work that builds inclusive practice, builds a strong organization. That sounds like a useful piece of work to be doing.

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Well, one of the things that I would say is our most powerful interventions, inclusion interventions is our inclusive talent management process. Especially around the hiring and interviewing process, because not only is it more inclusive in terms of the way that we design it, we do panel interviews, it’s team-based management, team-based advocacy. We make better decisions when we’re checking each other, when we’re not doing that legacy manatic thing of, “You’re going to interview that person, Ian, and then I’m going to interview that person in my own office and then one after the other,” because we make bad decisions. We really are bad decision makers as humans when it comes to hiring. And a lot of times those conversations, as I like to give the example, I’ll meet somebody that loves kayaking and so we’ll spend the 45 minutes of the interview, but 20% of that will spend on kayaking.

And now I really love Ian because Ian’s a great kayaker and so am I. This is wonderful, but you may not be the right person for the job, right? And so by taking the interviews out of the shadows and into a team-based interviewing environment, we can check each other and we can be more focused on actual performance-based interviewing and questioning of candidates. What we’ve found is that people also, that process, they’re also able to get from application to hire in about 50% of the time than they do the old ways. 

Now it’s really kind of interesting, because I remember a client saying to me when we were trying to implement this, we did successfully implement this process, but she said to me, “I’m afraid. I’m scared.” And I was kind of like, “Scared of what? I’m confused as to what is the possible downside of this,” but I think there is this opportunity hoarding, this power hoarding.

Ian Cook: Yeah. I was actually going to raise that as the next conversation. I love it, and I see this notion of two plane learning, that the business is getting a new inclusive practice, but the people who are then having to have the conversation about the candidate are actually having to work on being inclusive. Because it’s a completely different story of, “Well, what did you think of the candidate?” “Well I thought such and such.” And the person you’re sharing that with has no access to what was seen, heard or said. Very different when, “Okay, when candidate said X, this is what I heard, this is what I thought it meant.” “Oh, did you? Well, I actually saw it this way.” And so you start to create that very different and hopefully enriching, though possibly conflict-generating set of perspectives. How much do you work people through that whole process of here’s how you change your language to have a conversation about a candidate that’s inclusive as opposed to trying to advocate for your perspective versus somebody else’s? Do you get into that kind of level of detail?

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Yes, and we actually train people on how to have inclusive what we call solution building conversations. So we’re focused. This is a way of resolving conflicts, but it’s also a way of developing strategy and developing processes. It’s just a way of working together that is focused on what do we want to have happen? What’s our ambition here and how are we all going to work to get there? And when we focus and ground everybody in that common goal, we get out of this hydraulic of conflict pretty quickly and we have a different kind of conversation than we would if we are just trying to constantly solve and live in the problem. So that’s another part of our training sessions and our playbooks is to help people have more inclusive and more productive solutions focused conversations.

Ian Cook: And a big part of that, what you’re describing, I really like because it gets away from, “Well, we’re off target for our number of X,” name your diversity category, people to hire this month. Maybe this should be the time where we try and redress that as opposed to what I think we would all genuinely want is let’s have make sure we’re doing the best assessment of the candidate the best way that’s balanced on both sides, and out of that comes diversity. So this notion of inclusivity practices and input that brings an outcome to diversity I think is very, very powerful.

Dr. Lauren Tucker: And I would say in the mechanic of how that works is because you now have a team that is invested in that person coming in, then that same team is invested in helping that person achieve job success. That same team helps that person have immediate credibility because now all their colleagues know there was a team-based decision. If this team is feeling good about Ian coming into our organization, then we’re going to give Ian more than the benefit of the doubt. Ian’s part of who we are. And now you’ve got more credibility in the organization. You can get your initiatives done a lot easier because you already have that immediate credibility. You don’t have to spend the first honeymoon period trying to start at ground zero, which is what we love to do. We love to hire people and then we decide we’re going to start them at zero stars again. Why would we do that?

So this process helps to support that person for job success in their first year, and because of that, now you’ve got a whole team supporting that person and that’s the kind of support that women and people of color and people with disabilities have been asking for. They’re not asking for anything differently than anybody would want. It’s just that the processes have not been put in place to help everybody have the great career and the great experience that they should have. And there are too many leaders out there who are, they feel like they’re giving up power and in some ways, yeah, it’s a little bit of a democratization of power, but they will benefit so much more if they just let it go. Just let some of it go.

Ian Cook: It’s very true that sometimes giving away power actually brings it back to you if you get the community right and you get the process right. I really appreciated your example, Lauren. I think it really kind of grounds this notion of what do we mean by inclusivity? Why would we focus on that first? What does a practice look like? That notion of five separate interviews, debating who’s right versus five people being at the same time, building a community view of what’s right and then having that attachment to success going forward. It’s a very different operating model for most, I suspect. That’s a really fascinating piece. I suspect we could talk about it all day and I’m sure you’ve got lots and lots more examples.

And again, you laid out beautifully how that works. I’m going to wrap it up for today because we covered some great stuff. And again, give people a reason to come and seek you out and read your book and potentially engage with Do What Matters as an organization. So I’m going to say to our listeners, thanks for listening today. This was the episode of the Human Truth podcast and we’ve been talking about inclusive talent planning, which again, has got me really excited. Reiterate my thanks to our guest, Dr. Lauren Tucker, and I’m your host, Ian Cook, and I’ll be back next time discussing more fascinating workforce statistics. Thank you.

Dr. Lauren Tucker: Thank you.

Producer: Thanks for joining this episode on the Human Truth Podcast presented by Visier. More links and information presented on today’s show are at visier.com/podcast. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. The Human Truth Podcast is brought to you by Visier, the global leader in people analytics, whose mission is to reveal the human truth that helps businesses and employees win together. Today’s episode was produced by Grace Sheppard with technical production by Gabriel Kava. Sarah Gonzales is our head of content and Ian Cook is our host. See you next time and until then, visit us at visier.com/podcast.

About the author: Human Truth Podcast Team

The Human Truth Podcast is brought to you by Visier, the global leader in people analytics, whose mission is to reveal a human truth that helps businesses and employees win together. Today’s episode was produced by Sarah Gonzales with technical production by Gabriel Kava. Grace Shepherd is our assistant producer. Ian Cook is our host. More at visier.com/podcast

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