Preventing millennial women from quitting is easier than you think

By Christie Hunter Arscott and Lauren Noël

While conventional wisdom supports the notion that men leave jobs for higher paying roles and women leave to focus on families, our recent ICEDR global study of millennials tells a different story.

Contrary to popular perception, women around the age of thirty identified finding a higher paying job as the primary reason why they would leave their current employer.

Our findings should not come as a surprise. A 2014 study featured in Harvard Business Review found that only one in ten women leave the workplace to have children, while McKinsey reports that the majority of women are not opting out of the workforce because they cannot afford to. Rather, they are leaving specific jobs for others. The bottom line is: women care about pay. As one millennial woman we spoke with said:

“Pay is substantially important to keep me here. Many of my peers have left the company because the level of what they do does not match their compensation.”

Despite the alignment in findings across studies, our research reveals that organizational leaders still believe that the majority of women around the age of 30 leave because they are struggling to balance work and life or planning to have children. As a result of these misperceptions, there is a disconnect between current talent retention strategies and the desires of top female talent.

Chart of reasons why women leave organizations
Figure 1. Why do women 5-10 years out of University leave organizations?

Based on our research, there are two easy steps organizational leaders can take to improve their retention of millennial women:

1. Pay women more

With many studies approximating that women make 75 cents for every dollar that a man makes, it is no surprise then that early career women prioritize pay and compensation fairness when it comes to choosing their employer. By compiling and analyzing compensation data by gender, company leaders can get a better picture of whether or not employees are receiving fair and equitable compensation based on role, responsibilities, level, and performance. If gender gaps exist, executives have the opportunity to reconcile these gaps through data-driven people strategies and, more importantly, paying women the same as their male peers. As Ann Friedman states in her NY Magazine Article One Weird Trick For Keeping Female Employees From Quitting,  “Paying women more, from their first job onward, is a game-changer”.

2. Instead of talking about millennial women, talk with millennial women

Are you struggling to retain and advance early career women? Steer clear of developing retention strategies in board rooms full of executives and HR leaders (far removed from the day-to-day existence and input of the women you are trying to retain). Instead, seek to understand the needs, desires and priorities of your people. It can be as simple as quick survey or focus group asking women what is important to them at work, why they would stay with your organization, and what would make them leave. Alternatively, you could form a Millennial Advisory Board to represent the voices and needs of millennials and help shape people strategies. Regardless of how you do it, the key is to give millennial women a voice by asking, not assuming. Instead of talking about them, talk with them.

Talent strategies based on gender stereotypes and assumptions are doomed to fail. Want to retain your millennial women? It is simple: Pay them more and talk with them, not just about them.


Christie Hunter Arscott is a leading millennial expert on gender and generational strategies. She is a Rhodes Scholar, World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and Principal of ICEDR’s NextGen Women’s Leadership Institute. She’s on Twitter at @CHunterArscott.

Lauren Noël works for the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR), a global think tank of 38 companies and 23 business schools focused on leadership. She is the Managing Director of ICEDR’s NextGen Women’s Leadership Institute.

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