Long reads

Why do female leaders keep on stepping down?

Kirstie McDermott

Kirstie McDermott

Senior Content Editor, Amply

Nicola Sturgeon, Jacinda Ardern, and Susan Wojcicki are just three high profile women in leadership who have recently stepped down from their roles. New Zealand’s now former prime minister, Ardern said she was quitting because she “no longer had enough in the tank” to do the job.

Scotland’s former first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, explained that “giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it...But, in truth, that can only be done, by anyone, for so long. For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long.”

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s former CEO of nine years, and a long-time key Google employee, said of her tenure that “it’s been exhilarating, meaningful, and all-consuming.” Wojcicki is stepping back to focus on her family, health, and personal projects.

It’s not hard to see that there’s a unifying thread in all three resignations. Burnout, exhaustion, and simply getting to the end of their professional runway is the motivating factor for all three women. For politicians in particular it is a difficult time to be in power. The Fawcett Society’s  Equal Power project found that almost 70% of respondents cited abuse or harassment as a reason for not pursuing a career in politics.

Another study by the UK’s Inter-Parliamentary Union found that 82% of women politicians surveyed in 39 countries had experienced some form of psychological violence, with 44% reporting death threats, or threats of rape, beatings, or abduction.

International Women’s Day

In the context of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), taking place on 8th March, these are depressing statistics. IWD’s 2023 theme is #EmbraceEquity, and it seeks to place “a focus on gender equity [which] needs to be part of every society's DNA.” However, we are not there yet. In the wider workforce, women in leadership are experiencing high rates of burnout, exhaustion, and chronic stress compared to men in similar positions.

A McKinsey report found that 50% of women leaders are experiencing burnout at work, and in 2020 alone, 25% of women in senior leadership positions said they were ready to either downshift their careers, or leave the workforce. By 2022, the number looking to offload their leadership role or quit had increased to 33% of senior-level women.

Maintaining leadership

Why is it so difficult for women to maintain leadership positions? Some of the reasons are fairly clear. Women tend to shoulder more responsibilities around family and caring duties, which eventually causes attrition.

Then there is the case of the ‘broken rung’, identified in McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace report. This refers to the fact that women are promoted to managers at far lower rates than men in the first place, meaning it is harder to create a path to more senior levels. In addition, women hold only 36% of managerial positions, with men holding 62%.

There is some good news. The UK is now second in international rankings for women’s representation on boards at FTSE 100 level. These days, almost  40% of positions are held by women, compared to a decade ago, when representation was just 12.5%.

For women leaders who are feeling burnt out, a sideways move to a company committed to gender equality could be a solution. Discover three such employers below, with many more on the Finextra Job Board.

Program Manager, GoCardless, London

GoCardless is a company on a mission to close the gender pay gap. Its median pay gap (23.6%) has almost halved since 2019 and it is committed to fostering diversity and inclusion measures. The Program Manager will relaunch and run various compliance programs and drive a programmatic structuring and implementation across the key pillars of the compliance operating model.

You will need experience in running cross-functional, multi-dimensional programs, and you will be used to an agile way of working, able to be adaptable and flexible in approach. Get more information here.

Senior Product Designer, Spendesk, London

Spendesk is committed to fostering an environment where differences are supported and celebrated, with a goal to attract and build a diverse, equal, and inclusive team. A Senior Product Designer role is available at the company.

You will be involved in the entire product development process, from early research and ideation to tweaking pixels to shipping and post-launch. You will need four-plus years of product design experience and a well-rounded design skill set, including product thinking, UX, and UI. Apply for this role here.

Head of 1st Line Compliance Advisory, Zopa Limited, London

Zopa, a peer-to-peer lending company, says that 45% of its employees are women, an increase of 10% on December 2021. The Head of 1st Line Compliance Advisory will work across product and operations teams to ensure that products and services deliver good customer outcomes, and operate in line with internal policies and external rules, requirements and regulations.

If this sounds like a good fit for you, you will need previous compliance experience within financial services, and good knowledge of FCA principles and consumer credit regulations. Read the full job description now.

Burnt out? Explore the Finextra Job Board to find your perfect role.

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