January 5th, 2022

I’ve spoken with countless CHROs and learning and development leaders this year. They come from companies of all sizes and industries; they range from early-stage and strapped for funds to those who are implementing highly sophisticated, integrated learning strategies across their global organizations. Despite this massive variance, they all confided in me the one thing that keeps them up at night: losing their best executives in the wave of the Great Resignation.

Truth be told, HR leaders have good reason to worry. The competition for talent has never been fiercer. The job market has opened onto a global stage, with companies embracing (and thriving) in a remote environment. In a recent SHRM survey, approximately half of company respondents are reporting higher turnover than before — with 84% of respondents noting it’s taking much longer to fill open positions than pre-pandemic. Employees are on the move to discover better pay, better benefits, better geographies, rewards, culture, and career advancement opportunities — and, for HR leaders everywhere, it all seems to be happening now.

Given the complexities of hiring in such a competitive, global market, focusing efforts on retention is more critical than ever. For women leaders, it may be even more critical. It’s well-documented that the hardships brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic have disproportionately affected women, especially women of color. Women leaders are showing up every day for their career job, but they are also juggling the important responsibilities of their home jobs. This means employers must reconsider how they support women leaders, beyond just the obvious like healthcare and PTO.

Retention starts with looking inward

Sometimes, looking inward begins with listening. I’ve learned that I can never make assumptions about my team’s happiness or their aspirations and career plan. Maintaining a culture of open dialogue hopefully sets the stage for transparency and the ability to adapt in real-time. By listening, you may be surprised with what your team feels they need, or what makes them feel happy — and you’ll be even more surprised by the variance throughout your company.

Make investments in the advancement of your key leaders

Surely, we’ve all heard the saying that if you don’t invest in your team’s growth, they’ll go elsewhere. However, all too often, executives are overlooked. HR leaders and functional leaders are looked upon to figure out how to best support the teams beneath them —  which means executives themselves are often left out of the support structure.

I see all too well through our work at Athena Alliance that senior leaders need support, too — just a different kind of support. For them, it’s less about the management fundamentals (how to manage, how to hire, how to manage up), and more about making the move from functional to holistic. It’s about thinking about their value beyond their current role and title to consider their holistic experience and how that lends itself to the leadership realm at their existing company, for future companies, in boardrooms, in advisory roles, and as mentors to others.

Executives today must feel confident about a broad range of issues; they must stay up-to-the-minute on everything from tech stacks and societal issues to finance and boardroom governance. Investing in helping your executive team grasp these weighty issues (through Athena and others) is one way you can add instant value for your executive team.

Embrace flexibility and remote work

Or embrace a hybrid model, or quarterly travel, or any number of compromises. Find common ground between the needs of your company and the needs of your leadership team. In conversations with the executive members of Athena — all ages, all functions, all geographies — I’ve seen a range of responses to the new work-life style brought on by the pandemic. It ranges from an all-out embrace to a simmering discomfort. But regardless of how you may have to evolve as an HR leader, remote, flexible work is here to stay.

And, more importantly, it’s touted as a top benefit (for many, a must-have) by leaders. One study shows 64% of workers would actually take remote work over a $30K raise in pay!

Support your women executives to the boardroom

Athena offers an ecosystem of support for both executives on the path to the boardroom and the CEOs and directors who are seeking diverse board candidates. I know from personal experience that most CEOs and boards are incredibly supportive of their company’s senior women leaders pursuing a board seat.

However, occasionally I do come across a CEO or leadership team who just can’t get behind it. They fail to understand that having their senior women leaders serve on an outside board only enhances the skills and contributions they bring to your own company — it all comes back, ten-fold.

Supporting your executives in their achievement of a board seat will not only increase their executive influence, but will also pay you back in terms of loyalty, gratitude, and the higher education that only board service can deliver. Board service provides leaders with a front-row seat in the inner workings and governance of a company. It’s priceless.



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