Does gender matter when it comes to staying in or leaving a job?

Cross-industry research reveals women and men share similar priorities when deciding whether to stay in or leave a job

A new report sheds light on the differing priorities between men and women when it comes to job satisfaction and retention.

The Why Women Leave report, produced by Encompass Equality, offers a comprehensive look at the factors influencing women’s decisions to stay with or leave their employers.

With cross-industry research conducted in 2023 with 4,000 women, and updated in May 2024 to include data from 1,400 men, the findings challenge some traditional assumptions about gender-specific workplace issues.

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Back to basics

Contrary to what many might expect, the report reveals that workplace basics, rather than stereotypical ‘women’s issues’, play a more significant role in women’s career decisions.

Among the 15 main factors explored in this research, support from line managers, the day-to-day work itself, and team dynamics emerged as the most prominent influences on women’s choices to stay or leave an organisation.

Interestingly, these factors outweigh considerations such as caring responsibilities and menopause, which are often perceived as primary concerns for women in the workplace.

As the report says, “If you have women who are not feeling motivated by the day-to-day work they are doing, have a line manager they can’t communicate with, or a lack of flexibility around how they do their job, then having a menopause offering is not going to stop them from leaving.”

Flex appeal

While many factors influencing job satisfaction are shared across genders, flexibility does emerge as a significant point of difference between men and women.

In fact, 76% of women say the ability to work flexibly from different locations has a “huge” or “significant” impact on their decisions about whether to stay with or leave their employer.

While 65% of women say the ability to work in a flexible way from a time perspective has a “huge” or “significant” impact on their decisions.

Childcare, the availability and/or extent of special leave, and amount of work all matter more to women than men.

The report links the amount of work as ranking so highly as a critical factor in retaining women talent, as it reinforces how women continue to play a lead role when it comes to responsibility in the home, and chairing voluntary committees.

This factor flies under the radar as women possibly fear being seen as “less committed, hard-working, loyal or even professional” than those who can work overtime. If organisations are serious about understanding what holds women back from progressing into senior roles, this is one of the main issues that needs tackling.

A nuanced picture of flexibility in practice is revealed in the report.

While many companies appear more willing to accommodate location-based flexibility, many employees report encountering resistance when seeking time-based flexibility options, such as compressed hours, nine-day fortnights, or job-sharing arrangements.

It is this time-based flexibility where many organisations have room for improvement, and company-wide policies may not cut the mustard. Personalised flexibility is where it’s at, as one size truly does not fit all.

Shifting priorities

The report also provides insights into how women’s priorities shift throughout their careers.

What matters most for women in their 20s are their prospects for career progression and their salary and benefits. Flexibility, in terms of time and location, rank below the work itself, team, line manager, amount of work and culture.

For women in their 30s, line manager support remains crucial, but flexibility in work location takes the top spot, especially for those with children. Salary and benefits, the work itself, and team dynamics also play significant roles.

As women enter their 40s, line management continues to be the single biggest factor influencing decisions to stay or leave. Workplace culture regains prominence, and flexibility in all forms is viewed positively.

For women in their 50s, while menopause becomes a significant consideration, it still ranks below factors such as culture, line management, amount of work, and salary and benefits. Flexibility in both location and time takes precedence over menopause and eldercare concerns.

Once women reach their 60s, flexibility becomes less critical, with culture, work content, team dynamics, and line management taking priority.

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Overall, deciding whether to stay or leave a job is not hugely seen to be a gender issue. Most of the things identified as priorities for women – culture, prospects for career progression, support from line managers and the day-to-day work itself – are also priorities for men.

This doesn’t mean that organisations should do nothing. To close gender gaps, organisations need to actively improve things that do have a bigger impact on women than men.

The common thread is time flexibility, and associated, amount of work. For forward-thinking leaders who are genuinely committed to the cause of gender parity, this is where the greatest opportunity lies.

If this doesn’t sound like the direction your organisation is heading in, it could be time to look for something new.

Ready to find a flexible role in tech? Head to the Information Age Job Board today