Create a Culture Where Female Leaders Can Thrive

Can we “have it all” in terms of a successful career and a full life outside work? A majority of both women and men — 70 percent — say yes. Still, 50 percent say they cannot “have it all at the same time.”

That’s according to Accenture’s March 2013 global research study “Defining Success” that surveyed 4,100 professionals and is part of its 2013 celebration of International Women’s Day. The study explores how women define success, and how employers can address workplace and career issues.

As nine years of Accenture research points out, professionals define and redefine what success means during the course of their careers. Since employees’ career goals and personal priorities take precedence at different times, employers must find effective ways to help employees — both men and women — achieve success no matter what career and life stage they’re in.

Here are steps that can help create an environment where female leaders and professionals can thrive, but as the research points out, these tactics are also applicable for men:

Don’t ignore work-life balance. In the research, work-life balance tops respondents’ definitions of career success, ahead of money and recognition (cited by 56 percent, 46 percent and 42 percent respectively). Having both a successful career and a full life outside work is so important that more than half (52 percent) of the respondents say they have turned down a job due to concerns about its impact on work-life balance. Eighty percent say that having flexibility in their work schedule is extremely or very important to work-life balance.

The fact that so many employees are making work-life a priority may require companies — and managers — to think about it more strategically. By finding the right approach to integrating career and life demands, companies can help employees navigate both their professional and personal lives and are likely to see positive results in employee engagement, recruitment and retention.

Create meaningful career paths. This year, 53 percent of women and 50 percent of men say they are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 43 percent of women and 41 percent of men who reported being satisfied in the same research a year ago.

When respondents were asked why they would leave a job, the top reasons included responsibilities that don’t match a job description (38 percent), pay (38 percent) and uninteresting work (34 percent). Much of this dissatisfaction boils down to a lack of fit or increasing frustration with lack of upward mobility. Managers can get in front of this problem by looking at employee development holistically and focusing on the appropriate training and leadership development required to create meaningful career paths for employees.

Ask questions; have the discussion. While research and surveys provide insight into emerging trends, managers need to be proactive about asking employees what they want, need and expect. For larger companies this may be an official global employee survey, and for smaller organizations it may be based on individual or group discussions.

The survey asked what words respondents would use to describe a good workplace, and the No. 1 response was “rewarding.” That was closely followed by “honest” and “flexible.” Being open to input and feedback from employees can contribute to creating the type of culture these responses describe. Documenting feedback and benchmarking can help companies track improvements and identify trends in the workforce. These discussions can also give leaders insight into how to increase employee engagement and possibly into the root causes of any dissatisfaction.

The research found that “uninteresting work” was one of the top three reasons respondents gave for leaving a job. By asking questions, getting feedback and making meaningful changes to the workplace, companies can position themselves to keep some of their people who might otherwise leave or at least think of leaving. If a company can keep high performers and lower attrition — and therefore save recruiting costs — these discussions become valuable not only to the company’s culture but also to the bottom line.

Nellie Borrero is managing director of global inclusion and diversity at Accenture. She can be reached at