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The Great Break-Up: Why are female leaders switching roles?

The latest McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace report has coined the phrase "The Great Breakup" to describe the fact that more women leaders than ever before are switching roles (more than their male counterparts). But, why is this happening?

Leadership turnover reveals that women are leaving corporate jobs more frequently than they used to; this, in turn, creates new opportunities—and challenges—for organisations trying to promote equality and diversity within the workplace.

Why female leaders are leaving

The reasons women leaders are stepping away from their organisations are telling. Women leaders are just as ambitious as men, but at many organisations, they face headwinds that make it harder to advance. A few examples highlighted in the report include:

1. Workplace microaggressions

Women are on the receiving end of microaggressions that undermine their judgment and qualifications. Often their contributions go unrecognised and they face a glass ceiling preventing them from fully contributing to the organisation’s growth: “Women leaders are twice as likely as men to be mistaken for someone junior.”

2. Lack of balance

”43% of female leaders are burned out, compared to 31% of their male counterparts.”

Women are spending considerable time at work without having their efforts recognised. They are usually carrying the load at home and trying to balance family life, while also working hard at their jobs. Women are stretched between work and home, often carrying the majority of the housework and caregiving load as well: “52%+ of women at all levels carry the majority of household responsibilities.”

3. Limited flexibility

“49% of women leaders say flexibility is one of the top three things they consider when deciding whether to join or stay with a company, compared to 34% of men leaders.”

Women desire a better work culture that embraces flexibility and allows them to have a better work-life balance: “61% of women want to work remotely. And when women can choose their work arrangements, they are more fulfilled and less likely to leave.”

What can organisations do

Women’s paths to the top of organisations are full of obstacles that they must overcome if they are to advance. It’s important for women leaders to feel supported by their employers and empowered by the policies and benefits offered in their workplaces, which is why today's women want organisations that prioritise flexibility, employee well-being, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What leaders say and do makes up to a 70 percent difference as to whether an individual employee feels included. The more employees feel included, the more they speak up, go the extra mile, and collaborate — all of which ultimately improves organisational performance. For those working around a leader, such as a manager, direct report or peer, the single most important trait generating a sense of inclusiveness is a leader’s visible awareness of bias.

Organisations that don’t take action to address the leadership gap risk losing both their current and future female leaders. Young women today are even more ambitious, placing a higher premium on working in an equitable, supportive, and inclusive workplace. They’re watching senior women leave for better opportunities, and they’re prepared to do the same.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering training and development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops, and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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