An Inner Circle: The Key to Supporting & Retaining Female Talent

COVID-19 shifted the world of work, adding new challenges for employees and employers alike. And women have been hit particularly hard.  Citing that 1 in 4 women in corporate America have left or are considering exiting the workforce due to the pandemic, the 2020 Women in the Workforce Report from McKinsey makes it clear change is needed. If companies don’t take purposeful steps to support working women during these challenging times, they will lose valuable talent and gains made in gender inclusion. 

So, how can employers support the women in their workforce so they are growing in their careers instead of navigating to a career off-ramp? 

If you want women to lean in, give them something to lean on 

A study conducted by the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University found that women who communicate regularly with a female-dominated group are 2.5 times more likely to land a higher leadership position at their jobs than those who don’t. Why? A close-knit inner circle provides “trustworthy, gender-relevant information about job cultures and social support,” —  aspects that are important to women in the workforce —  particularly in male-dominated settings.

Creating this inner circle goes beyond an Employee Resource Group (ERG) or a leadership training session. The secret of the inner circle is that the women share experiences and offer advice, along with learning skills to develop in their careers. By learning and growing together, they advance together.

It’s important to understand that traditional networking programs – mentors, coaches, etc. – often fail women because they aren’t designed for women. This is because women network differently than men. In fact, women who try to network like men to advance in their careers actually fall short of achieving their goals. And traditional company-based approaches to network building often miss that close inner circle valued by women. 

By understanding what’s holding women back, companies can make investments that move women forward

To create an inclusive and diverse workforce, company leaders have to reimagine DEI initiatives. For women, this may mean developing flexible programs that support as well as build careers. By investing in programs that support women the way they learn and grow – together with peers – organizations can build more high potential employees and enable more women to rise into management, paving the way for them to ascend to senior leadership levels. 

Take this example: during a recent session in one of reacHIRE’s Aurora programs, two participants in different parts of an organization realized they were working on the same project. One of the women offered advice on a challenge to the other, and both women collaborated on the solution – thus raising both of their profiles within the project team. Because of the support of their inner circle, they were able to capitalize on their different strengths to help one another achieve career success.

Companies need to lean in 

Progressive organizations know this isn’t a time to step away from the progress made in gender diversity. This is a time to lean in, step forward and support women in a way that’s designed for them, so that together they can develop into your next generation of leaders.