12/28/2011 10:53 am ET Updated Feb 27, 2012

How Much Is the Loss of Key Female Talent Costing Your Organization?

Nadia is a scientist with degrees from three of the top universities in the world. She rose quickly through her R&D organization by first working as a line researcher and then by serving as the manager of various research functions. Nadia learned how to "play the game" with much clarity and conviction. These capabilities are equally matched by her passion and drive for career success.

Nadia was very clear on her career vision. She openly communicated to her immediate manager her desire to one day lead the research and development department. She knew that it would take hard work and a plan. She was prepared for both. What she didn't anticipate was the struggle that she would experience to gain support for realizing her dreams.

Here's the reality: As the only woman out of seven individuals running different divisions, she was repeatedly stopped in her career trajectory just below the executive level -- and she simply could not understand why. As she began to ask for informal feedback, she soon learned that she was interpreted as being "too assertive," "too aggressive"... that she made the men "uncomfortable."

Nadia left her organization (after 12 years of tenure) to go to the competition as their VP of R&D. No one did the math when she left. The cost of her loss to the company in terms of R&D knowledge (its core currency), their reputational cost (critical in this job market) and her bottom line replacement cost equaled thousands upon hundreds of thousands of lost, wasted or untapped dollars taken from their bottom line. Now their competitor is enjoying the fruits of Nadia's labor.

What happened? Did she not work hard enough? Was Nadia not patient enough? Did she not get honest feedback? Whatever the answer, in the end, the company lost. It trained a top talent -- a valuable asset -- and now another company is reaping all of the benefits and rewards of her development.

Stories like this are shared on a daily basis. This is reality, and it is costing organizations millions of dollars.

So, how much is the loss of key female talent costing YOUR organization?

According to The Economist article Women and Work: We did It! (2009), on average, 30% of every company's workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next few years, and 70% of all new incoming employees in 2010 were women, people of color and immigrants.

Another shift? More women are graduating from college than men. By the end of 2011, there will be 2.6 million more female than male university students in America (Katty & Shipman, 2009). And on top of this, a study released in October 2010 shows that 70% of U.S.-based corporations have NO clearly defined strategy or philosophy for the development of women into leadership roles (Mercer, 2010). This is especially troublesome given how critical the development of a highly engaged talent pool is that mirrors the face of the customer, as suggested by McKinsey.

These dynamics mean that there is a sense of urgency for leaders to develop a robust talent management strategy that addresses the specific and unique challenges of women.

It is unthinkable that CEOs would undervalue and underutilize as much as ONE-HALF of their talent pool. But that is precisely what is happening. And those companies that "don't get it" are losing their key female talent leaders to the companies who DO "get it."

Creating a Supportive Organizational Gender Culture: What to do?

The key to shifting organizational gender culture is through clear, unequivocal leadership vision, modeling and accountability. Although the intention of an organization's leaders may be aligned with their talent management and inclusion goals, the unexamined way of being of an organization (or its mental models) can absolutely derail its objectives.

The following steps can guide an organization's shift toward an authentically more gender inclusive culture...

1. Leaders must have a strong vision for inclusion and a clear strategic link between women in leadership ranks and achieving organizational goals. Leaders must also model inclusive behavior in their organization.

2. Existing mental models and bias regarding talent management must be identified, challenged and eliminated.

3. Accountability for inclusive talent management must be built into existing performance management systems.

4. Targets are very helpful to expand representation at key leadership levels and in key development activities (i.e. mobility, rotations, leadership development, high visibility assignments, etc.).

5. Men must be fully engaged in development and implementation of strategy, programs and dialogue with women.

6. A highly visible and accessible work-life integration program must be targeted and marketed to the entire workforce -- not just women.

7. Concepts of gender inclusion should be fully integrated into existing leadership and management development programs, so they don't exist as separate from the "business of the business."

For more information about how to utilize each of these 7 gender inclusion steps in your organization, or for more resources on this and other related topics, visit: