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Women execs leave industry faster than men, NEW reports

Beth Marrion

Retail and consumer goods companies must transform their culture to retain talented women, who leave the industry at much faster rates than men, according to NEW President and CEO Sarah Alter, who shared new research at the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference, Jan. 27 in Miami.

Alter joined Beth Marrion, managing director, retail at Accenture; Subarna Malakar, vice president, global diversity and inclusion at Ahold Delhaize; and Carole Christianson, COO of Western Association of Food Chains, to discuss the state of gender equality and talent development in retail and consumer goods.

“The industry, so dependent on its female workforce and its female consumers, cannot afford to fall behind on women’s leadership,” Alter said. “Talent is too important to our future.”

Marrion, the discussion moderator, presented four key findings from joint research by NEW, Accenture and Mercer. The report, to be published in late February, is based on a survey of 3,600 industry employees and workforce data from retail and consumer goods companies representing more than 400,000 employees.

At the lower level, hiring and promotion rates are similar for women and men, but equal representation stops halfway.

“Women are leaving upper management levels in our industry at nearly twice the rate of men  24.4 percent vs. 13.3 percent,” Marrion said. “At the very highest level, they are leaving at nearly four times the rate of men, 26.9 percent vs. 7.3 percent.

Lack of women leaders is a self-perpetuating cycle.

“Senior-level women not only feel isolated, they are isolated,” Marrion said. “And when there are only a few people like you in senior leadership, the odds can be stacked against you.”

One contributing factor: Bias, conscious and unconscious, which is embedded in company cultures, Marrion said. Two-thirds of executive women believe there is bias when it came to promotions and work assignments, compared to 59 percent of early-career men and 42 percent of senior executive men. “Male awareness of male favoritism decreases the higher you go — women’s perception stays the same,” she noted.

A new employee value proposition is needed to retain women leaders.

“Our research found that many women say they don’t get the stretch goals or key assignments that would help them advance,” Marrion said. “When they are given new roles, less half of women feel they get the support they need to be successful, compared to more than two-thirds of men who say they do.”

Work/life balance is a challenge, too. Nearly half of male first-level managers and 40 percent of female first-level managers are dissatisfied with their work-life balance.

Organizations must disrupt their cultures to create a better workplace for everyone.

“A new employee value proposition requires a profound change in our thinking and in our actions,” Marrion said. “It means we must align our companies’ policies and values to meet the needs and values of our workforce, especially women, who are vastly underrepresented in our leadership”.

“Senior executives are ultimately responsible for attracting, advancing and retaining the talent we need to succeed,” Alter told the FMI Midwinter 2018 attendees. “When it comes to gender equality and diversity, are you phoning it in? Or are you a passionate evangelist for the benefits of diverse leadership?”