Women, The Workplace, and Capacity

I’ve spoken a lot about this on my blog, and there are a few allusions to doing the right thing from an HR perspective in my forthcoming book, Unleashing Capacity: The Hidden Human Resources (Charles Pinot, 2015.) But things that must be said bear repeating, and it’s time for me to repeat myself: women and their equal pay and progression in the workplace is a serious problem for capacity.


In a recent article in The Atlantic, Bourree Lam interviews Barbara Annis of the Gender Intelligence Group, over why women shouldn’t have to act like men to progress in the workforce. Within this powerful article (and I really encourage you to read it,) Annis gives a startling statistic embedded in an answer about why she conducts “gender intelligence workshops) for leading companies such as American Express and eBay):


“If you look at technology companies, they’re looking to overcome what they call the “brain drain” or what they call the “talent drain.” They’re losing women: Women come in after having graduated and they last three to five years…”


Three to five years. Think about that. Think about your turnover rate. Think about what that means for your recruiting expense and the costs associated with that seat being open.


Women aren’t sticking around and enduring these issues. If they don’t feel they’re being paid and promoted accordingly, they will go somewhere else. That one issue alone can decimate capacity.


The article goes on to explain that a lot of companies want to know why they’re not making progress, that since middle management looks pretty thick with gender diversity they must be doing something right. But examine the C-suite and suddenly the answer becomes quite clear: those women are still navigating shards of the proverbial glass ceiling, trying to figure out how to rise into the executive suite.


Capacity, by its own definition, is the ability for companies to remain agile within the ever-changing landscape of global business. If the core of your business talent is female and you’re not paying and rewarding them appropriately (or avoiding the motherhood penalty, which is a very real thing in the business world,) then that base of talent is most likely going to leave. You have to start all over again. You have to train someone else to come up the ranks, only to have the same retention issue somewhere else. It amounts to potentially thousands of leaks in what should otherwise be a water-tight craft for smooth sailing in treacherous business waters. Could it sink the business? You bet it could.


From an HR perspective, we have an obligation to see this issue and bring it to our managers in the terms of real business impact. It’s the right thing to do from an HR perspective, but lack of retention hurts. Explain this is plain financial terms. Project each line of business with an estimated turnover of a conservative number of 10% per annum. Add in recruiting costs and lost productivity. The answer is quite simple: it costs less to retain good talent than it does to replace it once it’s gone, particularly if word has gotten out that women can’t advance past a certain level. Your brand will be damaged, and try as you might, you may have a hard time replacing that woman who left. Doesn’t it make sense to keep her?


It may sound like I’m on my soapbox about the issue. Perhaps I am. However, this is a business need that must be addressed, and as HR leaders we can do something about this. Equality in pay and performance reward isn’t just a soft skill, it’s a hard business need…and we in HR are just the ones to find out how to meet it.


About the Author: Rita Trehan is a previous guest contributor to Women of HR, and the Founder and Principal of Rita Trehan, LLC, a change management and leadership advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, emerging technology, and cutting-edge organizational design. As a seasoned top executive that has successfully transformed organizations at the Fortune 200 and beyond, she has extensive experience working with CEOs and top corporate management on process and organizational improvement for maximum profitability. A soon-to-be published author, Rita regularly speaks at industry conferences around the world. You can contact Rita on twitter at @rita_trehan and connect with her via LinkedIn. Rita’s blog can be found at www.ritatrehan.com.


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