Why Corporate Women Are Quitting

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I’ve been talking to women about what’s been going on with them at work for the past two years. Women who you’d probably identify as the nice, great at their jobs, low-drama colleagues you feel safe around. That one boss you were a little protective about. The peer you were excited to get assigned to a project with because you knew she’d deliver. The person you’d be very surprised to learn quit without another job to go to, but seeing her go really confirms how bad things have gotten. Those women.

These canaries in the coal mines do not want to leave their jobs. They didn’t imagine it. It was not a part of the plan. But they are so burned out from persistently being reliable they don’t know what to do. That’s one of the questions I ask, “what would you like to do?” And they say, “I just don’t know. I can’t even imagine it. I am so burned out.”

The departure of these women among the Great Resignation isn’t going to go well for the companies they’re leaving behind. As their fellow volunteer co-leaders of the Employee Resource Groups quit, the ones still there won’t have any energy left to fill the gaps anymore. They are too tired from keeping their families alive and educated and protecting their employees from executive decisions being made on what often seems like a whim. They’ve given so much to everyone else they are finding themselves incapable of rescuing themselves. It is beyond burnout. It’s shutting down. And when they find their way out, they’re not going to go back.

I was there just before the pandemic hit, and nearly a year later had spiraled even deeper into burnout to the point of physically shutting down. Today, a year after that, I’m finally able to feel like I’m looking back on the worst of it. As I’ve been recovering from my burnout, I’ve been helping other women through their own, and here’s what I’ve learned.

A lot of women still don’t really get how impressive they are

It is incredibly hard to be a woman in America and not have gone through some terrible shit. At the very least, there’s the persistent torment of societal expectations about our bodies, most of which we have no actual control over and have internalized almost past the point of noticing. But, at the very most, it’s much, much, worse. Dealing with that alone is impressive. Unfortunately, most women hold onto those experiences — great and small — usually in secrecy and shame.

On top of that, they’re also doing the jobs of 3 people, or managing chronic illness, or caring for their kids and their spouses and their parents. And they still can’t take a fucking compliment. Trust me, you are exceeding your ridiculously high standards, ladies. And no one deserves the things that happened to you.

The amount of untapped potential being wasted for stupid patriarchal hierarchy political games is somehow both shocking and not surprising

I keep hearing a different version of the same story and I gasp every time. Or press my hands to my cheeks, jaw dropped. And then I say, “Yep, sounds about right. You are not alone.” It seems as though, even though I expect it, I will never get over the audacity of the behavior of leaders in the corporate world. The random friend of the CEO getting hired and promoted over the experienced leader. The founder scolding a woman of color for her tone (in italics so you can imagine my tone). The Vice President calling people on their vacations but never getting edits in by the deadline.

It is a barrage of bullshit that gets in the way of actual work so frequently people forget what they’re even good at, or like to do, anymore.

People who are given permission to take control of their careers instead of letting their jobs lead them actually know exactly what they want to do and they are very good at it

I’ve found that when a woman with high expectations for herself gets to focus on what she’d really like to be doing, and the conditions are right, she doesn’t have a hard time figuring it out at all. She actually knows exactly what she’d like to do, she just didn’t realize she could go ahead and do it. And there are often people lined up waiting to hire her. In my experience, she needed a very enthusiastic, neurodivergent, strident feminist hyping her up a bit, but I imagine there are other solutions. It is a lovely thing to have someone who, two months before, had no vision for her future, say, “I feel so calm now that I’ve decided to do this thing I only dreamed about.”

It’s amazing what people can do when they get to have discussions about themselves that aren’t performance reviews. That are, in fact, undoing the damage those reviews did over the years. The ones where women are criticized for being too loyal and caring, too rigid, too emotional, too mean, too enthusiastic. Where it is somehow okay for people with terrible personalities to tell other people to change their own personalities or else they won’t make more money. Which leads me to this conclusion:

Companies willing to make radical changes — like firing all the old white men at the top-type changes — have the opportunity to take over their industries

I wouldn’t be a coach and entrepreneur if I weren’t an optimist, but I would be shocked and surprised to see a major employer actually do what it takes to attract and retain the kind of people currently jumping ship. I’m watching a number of women entering new positions after leaving toxic workplaces, and I’m anxious they’re about to enter into more of the same, and start burning out again. The rest of the world isn’t exactly getting any easier as the pandemic trudges on, and I’m not hearing a lot of stories about revolutionary corporate actions.

I’m just saying if a company wanted to, let’s say, truly diversify from the top down while simultaneously designing a workplace around accommodating for disabled employees first, with an emphasis on mental and emotional health, I know a lot of really talented people who might like to work there forever — and would take its business into the stratosphere.

Since that’s not likely, the next best option is for more people to get real, let go of the cognitive dissonance we’re taught to rely on to get through drudgery, and accept that this is bad. Then start making choices to make what we are now clearly seeing as bad, better. This is as true for ourselves individually as it is for the way we approach our responsibility to our communities. We make small choices every day to hold up systems that are harming us, and we can make new ones. Otherwise, every Jennifer you work with will be gone before you know it, and nobody wants that. (Well, I kind of want that. Call me, Jennifer. I can help.)

This article was originally published on LizaDube.com

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