Talented Women Are Leaving The Workforce – Here’s How to Keep Them

08/11/2017 12:35 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2017

I want to start this post by letting you know that I am a “dude.” I’m going to talk about how some companies are letting super talented millennial moms leave their organizations because they operate with a 1960’s mentality.  I also want to preface that even though I am a dude, I feel women are superior to men in so many ways, especially as leaders. Ok, my masculine male friends, let the verbal bashing begin.

I have been fortunate to have worked for mostly strong women managers throughout my career and personally admired every one of them. I am aware of the gender bias that happens in society and in the board rooms. Because of that, I fully realize that a woman in a leadership role most likely studied harder, worked harder, and made more personal sacrifices than her male counterparts to land that leadership role.

Last week, Google made headlines after a male engineer published an internal memo claiming that biological differences between the sexes accounted for the scarcity of women in leadership jobs in Silicon Valley. In reality, women make up nearly half of Google’s management team (46% to be exact), and that is above average. As a comparison, only one of Apple’s 11 senior execs is female. New data shows that women are underrepresented in the highest levels of leadership because they are being forced out by dated workplace cultures. These cultures, which do not represent the modern needs of a two-income household labor force, are causing millions of talented employees to fail, especially working moms—and the result is massive attrition at every point in the leadership pipeline. The good news is that not all companies are still practicing workplace norms from the Madmen era. More companies are realizing that offering flexibility allows them to attract and retain the best talent and keep talented Millennial moms employed and engaged.

Millennials are the most educated generation ever and Millennial women are more educated than their male counterparts. 57 percent of college students are female, and a larger percentage of women are receiving advanced degrees than men. Because of this trend, there are more women starting professional jobs and starting their own businesses than men. This uptick in college and post graduate enrollment is one of the reasons that Millennials are waiting longer than their parents did to have children.

Millennials will account for the majority of the workforce by 2025 and half of them will become moms in their thirties, after they have established themselves professionally. Some 1.3 million Millennial women gave birth for the first time in 2015, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, raising the total number of U.S. Millennial women who have become mothers to more than 16 million. Millennial moms face a different environment than their mothers and grandmothers did. It was “normal” for their moms and grandmothers to stay at home and raise their children because most could afford to live comfortably on a single income. Divorce rates are higher today as well, so there are more single moms, and everything costs more. We have bigger houses, college debt, multiple cars that require expensive gas. Everything at the grocery store seems to cost $4 these days.  The problem is that women are expected to work like they don’t have children, and raise children like they don’t have a job.  Corporate policies need to be updated to reflect these modern realities. Millennial moms will not be able to parent like they don’t have jobs and work like they don’t have children.

Contrary to popular belief, most millennial moms who leave the corporate workforce want to stay. A recent study showed that women value flexibility over and above any other factor in their career search, including compensation, title, and location. Of the 30 percent of women who drop out of the workforce, 70 percent say they would have stayed if they had access to flexibility. This amounts to 6.6 million women. Enough to dramatically increase the number of women in leadership and rapidly accelerate the advancement of corporate gender equality.

But flexible working is no longer just a women’s issue. Increasingly, Millennial men are demanding the ability to work flexibly, often to play more active roles as caregivers for their kids or parents. This means the need for successful flexible working models is equally relevant for men. If we aspire to have equal workforce participation by men and women at every level of leadership, then there is a clear imperative to ensure that both genders are equally enabled to share the caregiving role. Men and women, therefore, need to have equal access and equal success in workplace flexibility, without negative judgments or repercussions from their bosses, coworkers and it cannot affect their career progression. Flexibility isn’t just the future of feminism—it’s the future of work.

Flexibility isn’t just the future of feminism—it’s the future of work. Companies should do all they can to modernize their work environments and corporate cultures or they will lose some of the most talented employees available to them.