Women in their 30s leave jobs for one big reason—and it’s not babies

It’s not all about flexibility.
It’s not all about flexibility.
Image: EPA/Peter Foley
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A key part of the conversation about how best to hire and retain women has centered on workplace flexibility. Women are often the ones to take a career break to have children, so if a company makes it easier for them to fit work around family, the thinking goes, mothers are more likely to stay.

But if business leaders think greater flexibility addresses the biggest problem with retaining young female employees, they’re wrong, according to a study based on a survey of around 300 people worldwide. The research asked people aged 22-to-35 about the factors that prompt them to switch roles five-to-10 years out of university.

The main reason women leave their jobs? Salary. More women than men cited the answer, “I found a job elsewhere that pays more” as the top reason for switching roles. In all, 65% of women gave that as the main reason, versus 56% of men. Starting a family ranked fifth among the most-cited reasons for women leaving their jobs.

Women are paid less than men in the US, the UK, and pretty much everywhere else.

For men, the top reason for leaving a job was a lack of learning and opportunity in the role. Salary was in second place. Family didn’t make the top five.

In general, though, the reasons women and men in their 30s cited for leaving companies were similar.

The report boils down to two findings, according to one of the researchers, Christie Hunter Arscott: “Firstly, women care about pay. Secondly, women and men leave organizations for similar reasons.” She suggests three fixes for executives looking to attract and retain more women: develop strategies to retain talented people that aren’t gender specific; address challenges beyond flexibility, like pay; and ask women what they need, rather than making assumptions.