Event Recap: How to Engage Women and Turn the “Great Resignation” into the “Great Retention”

We recently co-hosted a virtual event on “How to Engage Women and Turn the ‘Great Resignation’ into the ‘Great Retention,’ in partnership with the Massachusetts High Technology Council (MHTC). See a recap of the event below. 

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on women’s careers and organizations’ gender diversity goals. The Women in the Workplace 2021 Report from LeanIn and McKinsey & Co. shows that one in three women are considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers – an uptick compared to the 2020 report (one in four women).

In addition to women taking a break from the workforce altogether, many workers are currently seeking new job opportunities in what has been called the “Great Resignation.” The latest data shows that a record 4.3 million American workers quit their jobs in August, representing a 2.9 percent overall quit rate.

What can your organization do to better support women and help them flourish during this challenging time? Addie Swartz, CEO at reacHIRE, moderated a fireside chat on this timely and important topic featuring panelists, Heather Bender, Vice President of Talent at iRobot, and Sharra Owens-Schwartz, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Senior Director at Rocket Software. Below, we’ve shared some key takeaways from the event.

It Starts with Listening 

Nobody could have predicted the lasting impact of the pandemic on our work and personal lives. With women – and all employees – balancing work, personal, and family responsibilities, it’s important for all organizations to be proactive about listening to employees and providing the support they need.

During the session, Sharra Owens-Schwartz of Rocket Software shared that she went on an employee listening tour to understand how the pandemic is impacting different populations, in order to understand their needs and respond to them. One of the outcomes of this listening tour involved offering employees comprehensive mental health and wellness support, including access to digital content, meditation sessions, and more.

Similarly, Heather Bender from iRobot surveyed employees and conducted focus groups, taking a look at different demographics across the organization, such as women and people of color, to learn about the type of work environments that work best for each group. While some employees are eager to return to the office on a regular basis, others populations across the company prefer to stay entirely remote.

A critical step toward supporting women in the workforce is collecting employee feedback to have a direct understanding of what they want and need. This can help your company more effectively engage women and make positive strides toward reaching your gender diversity goals.

Flexibility is Key

With employee feedback in mind, both iRobot and Rocket Software adapted their workplace culture and environment throughout the pandemic to offer more flexibility.

At iRobot pre-pandemic, much of the company culture revolved around its Bedford, Massachusetts office, but now with so many employees working remotely, the company has more of a global feel in which employee location no longer matters. iRobot doesn’t have any specific plans to require employees to return to the office and trusts employees to determine their work environment and schedule based on their own comfort level.

Leadership at iRobot also understands the toll that Zoom and video meeting fatigue can take on employees, so the company encourages employees to conduct some meetings without video. Additionally, iRobot recently implemented meeting-free Friday afternoons, which are supported from the top-down, with senior leader administrators blocking employee calendars to enforce this policy.

Rocket Software recently announced the decision to be an entirely remote company. The company has also adapted some of its workplace practices to better meet the needs of flexible schedules. For example, some meetings, professional development sessions and other events are now recorded and posted online for Rocketeers (Rocket employees) to access on their own schedule – so employees continue to feel connected even if they can’t attend a scheduled meeting live.

Data from CNBC and SurveyMonkey found that 39 percent of working women are concerned that opting for flexible work arrangements could harm their career goals – and this number jumps to 53 percent for women with children under the age of 18. By encouraging workplace flexibility, your organization can create a supportive environment in which women have more room to balance work and personal priorities while continuing to grow in their careers.

Foster a Sense of Belonging 

Recent data from McKinsey shows that 51 percent of employees who quit leave their organizations because they don’t feel a sense of belonging at work. Both Rocket Software and iRobot understand the importance of fostering belonging and community – especially in a remote work environment.

Rocket Software is structured to support a sense of inclusion and belonging and a key way the company achieves this is by encouraging all employees to bring their whole selves to work. This includes making sure all women across demographics feel included – such as working mothers, women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, disabled women, and more.

As a global company, Rocket Software is committed to building communities of women across geographic boundaries and leverages reacHIRE’s Aurora professional development platform to create these communities. Through Aurora, a cohort of women at Rocket Software from different regions across the globe joined together to learn with, and from, each other through peer-to-peer connection, increasing their sense of belonging and community building.

“One of the most valuable things that has come out of Aurora is the cohort of women within Rocket who have really bonded together during the experience,” said Sharra Owens-Schwartz of Rocket Software. “It’s that peer-to-peer connection, which brought together women from different continents and countries who may not have otherwise connected with one another. We harnessed the power of relationships to deepen engagement at Rocket, which ultimately can bolster leadership potential.” 

A recent iRobot employee survey showed that the top word used to describe the company culture is “inclusive.” Heather Bender shared that throughout the pandemic, iRobot has launched a wide range of DEI initiatives, such as several employee resource groups (ERGs), including one dedicated to women at iRobot. The company regularly hosts virtual events – including panels of early, mid and senior career women, as well as outside speakers – and encourages employees to take time away from their day-to-day work to attend these events.

To further support women and drive belonging, iRobot also partners with reacHIRE to help early and mid-career women build their leadership skills through the Aurora platform, so they thrive and stay. Aurora provides women with continuous opportunities for learning and skill-building, along with expert guidance from a certified Aurora Guide.

“We’ve partnered with reacHIRE and the Aurora program for the past few years and that’s certainly something we have done and will continue to do to develop our women [and] build cohorts regardless of location,” said Heather Bender of iRobot.” “We are creating new networks of people because we now understand with being remote, it can be harder to make new connections and get to know one another than you would have when you were physically all in one building.” 

Research from O.C. Tanner shows that employees who establish an above-average connection with their colleagues are eight times more likely to produce great work. By fostering a sense of belonging, your organization can be in a better position to avoid the “Great Resignation” and instead turn this time into a period of “Great Retention.”

Are you interested in learning more from the fireside chat? View the on-demand recording from the virtual event.

Engage & Retain Women in Your Workforce

“We now do work everywhere and given (this virtual work environment), organizations need to do a better job onboarding, including their employees, creating communities, and providing support so that we don’t have women in the workforce leaving in droves and feeling burned out,” said Addie Swartz during the event.

reacHIRE’s Aurora professional development platform can help you better support and engage women in your workforce. Aurora takes a unique community-based approach to help companies build the careers of all women, as well as accelerate growth for high-potential talent – so women thrive and stay at your organization.

Learn more about Aurora and how to bring career opportunities, learnings, and community to help encourage loyalty among women in your organization.