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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

To Keep Workers and Grow Talent, Leaders Need a Gut Check

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What You Need to Know

  • The Chiral Project hopes to help management better prepare workers, especially women, for career growth.
  • Since the pandemic, workers feel burned out and undervalued, the survey found.
  • Leadership can make positive changes without heavy investment in infrastructure.

A trio of management executives are hoping to “move the needle” in the professional services ranks by helping leaders inspire their workforce, especially women, to grow their careers.

Using data from a survey of more than 200 professionals done by the group’s Chiral Project, they found that not only was work-life balance the No. 1 challenge — people are just burned out — but a majority didn’t feel valued by their company leaders, and that spoke to the large employment turnover happening now. As the study notes, the “pandemic was a life altering event, so people are looking for change.”

The Chiral Project was founded by Jennifer Bankston, Jill Huse and Heather McCullough. Its purpose is to help professional service firms — including those in financial services — understand where they may need to “accelerate strategies and implement new programs for change.”

Sparked by a January paper by the National Women’s Law Center that found women left the workforce at four times the rate of men, and more than 1 million lost their jobs during the pandemic, the women worked on this inaugural survey with ALM Intelligence, ALM Intelligence Pacesetter Research (which share the parent company of ThinkAdvisor) and Women in Funds.

Six areas in which the survey found organizational shortcomings and identifiable gaps between men and women were dynamic leadership, strategy, change management, entrepreneurship, wellness and communication. They plan to work with several firms using the data analytics from the survey and help companies make internal adjustments over a two-year period.

“We hope that through this that women will begin to assume greater roles in both leadership, but also in equity in terms of dollars,” Bankston told ThinkAdvisor.

Data Surprises

Some survey findings stood out to Bankston and her colleagues, including that “the overwhelming majority of respondents do not feel valued or appreciated,” and though work-life balance has always been an issue, workers now say there hasn’t been a change in their organizations and “one-third are looking for new jobs,” she said.

“[Also] overwhelmingly [respondents] are not happy with the existing leadership within their organizations and just completely feel burnt out now. Women also believe, more so than men, they were not being provided the training and resources that they needed. Finally, three times as many females than males reported their level of responsibility was [lagging] behind that of their peers.”

The survey skewed 80% women/20% men, and largely was weighted toward younger employees (about 77% were younger than 54).

One-third of women said they didn’t have a champion in their organization, “but that didn’t necessarily say that two-thirds had a champion,” Bankston said. This dovetails with the finding that 50% more female respondents than male ones disagreed that they felt in control of their career paths.

“Both from males and females, the survey showed that collaboration with leadership and believing that their voices are being heard has been on a downward trend since the start of the pandemic,” Bankston pointed out.

Change Needed at the Top

What should organizations take away from this survey? First, leaders need to be more open, candid and inspirational. This drives retention and opens pipelines of new ideas and innovation, according to the survey. They also need to find new processes and tools for diverse leadership pathways, and offer career development and better work opportunities.

Bankston added that many changes “can be implemented without a heavy investment in infrastructure (new hires, physical resource items). Setting up effective mentoring programs, helping with networking and finding ways to provide training and upskilling could do a great deal to improve these areas for employees and employers.”

Further, leaders need to ask these questions:

  • What are ways we are equipping people to lead?
  • What are top three levers that affect our leadership pipeline?
  • From the employee’s perspective, what’s our criteria for advancement?
  • How is management listening to root causes to make changes?
  • What biases can we identify in our reward system?
  • How do we hold people to a consistent set of values?

Bankston added that COVID-19 brought new pressures to the workplace, or perhaps highlighted fissures already in place.

“Our report is a first step in helping professional service organizations assess and address systemic issues within their walls,” she said. “By undertaking new strategies and solutions, we can accelerate change and bring balance to leadership.”


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