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Priorities for Women in the Workplace in 2023

Workplace priorities have been shifting over the last few years across all demographics. For women, these shifts have offered both new opportunities and new challenges as they strive for excellence, work-life balance, and career advancement. Here are three top concerns of women in the workplace today – and how organizations can address them in order to attract and retain talent.


Priority #1: Career Development

According to recent research by Gartner, employee experience and career development are at the top of the list for 2023, with 47% of HR leaders saying they’re prioritizing these aspects of work. It’s a critical differentiator in a competitive labor market and a tight economic situation: fewer than 20% of low-performing teams prioritize clear career growth paths, but 60% of high-performing teams do. With costs of recruiting going up, it’s more important than ever to invest in developing current talent.


For women, however, the path to leadership development is frequently more difficult. Research from McKinsey and LeanIn revealed the challenges currently facing women pursuing leadership roles and overall career development:


  • Women lose out at the “first rung” on the leadership ladder, or first-step management roles. For every 100 men who are promoted to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted, creating a pipeline problem at higher levels.
  • Women in leadership are leaving their companies at a rate of 10.5%, the highest level in years.
  • Women are more likely to have colleagues imply they are unqualified for their roles and/or be mistaken for someone junior.
  • These factors are exacerbated for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities, all of whom report increased instances of microaggressions, demeaning behavior towards them, and a lack of support for their advancement.


Today’s HR teams should be taking all of these factors into account as they reconsider the overall employee experience. Everyone is looking for career development, but women – and especially women with intersectional identities – already face more struggles in this arena, making it a true make-or-break factor.


Priority #2: Control and Flexibility

The past few years have seen a boom in remote and hybrid work. Hidden beneath the flashy headlines about “return to office” versus work-from-home, however, is a more complex reality that women, in particular, have found themselves navigating.


On the one hand, remote and hybrid work arrangements are broadly popular and can reduce some of the stressors on women in the workplace. A Gallup survey found that approximately 60% of remote-capable employees would most prefer to stick with a long-term hybrid work arrangement. Many women  have also reported that hybrid work has helped to reduce instances of microaggressions they face, particularly for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities; meanwhile, 71% of HR leaders say that the rise in remote work has actually helped their organizations diversify.


Remote and hybrid work is not a cure-all, however. In fact, it can actually exacerbate some existing problems, with the potential to damage team cohesion and exacerbate existing (and often gendered) discrepancies in terms of work recognition. For this reason, flexibility itself, not a “simple” shift to remote work, is a top priority for working women. Women with the flexibility to work how they want are 20 points more likely to be happy with their jobs (81% versus 61% of those without control over their work arrangements) and feel like they have equal opportunities (67% versus 47%).


Priority #3: Well-Being and DEI

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging have taken on an even bigger profile over the last few years. With that “boom,” however, has come some pitfalls, many of which affect women and other underrepresented groups in particular. As a result, these groups are prioritizing authentic DEI efforts that also understand the relationship between inclusivity and overall employee well-being.


According to McKinsey, 17% of women leaders who have left their jobs in the past two years cited an organization’s commitment to well-being as a reason to seek a new position, and young women particularly prioritize this. Meanwhile, the same research indicates that 40% of women leaders say their DEI work isn’t formally acknowledged and rewarded, and 43% report feeling burned out (compared with just 31% of male leaders at the same level). DEI work is extra work, as well as being emotionally and mentally taxing in many ways, leaving many women feeling like they’re in a no-win situation: they believe in the importance of the work and want to help, but they also need recognition and compensation for it.


To attract and retain women, particularly women in leadership roles, it’s important for companies to take a good look at how their policies truly support these employees. A one-size-fits-all approach may seem like the “easy” route, but it can cost organizations down the line when they lose out on top talent to more flexible, supportive competitors. Alternately, investing in long-term success strategies that address women’s unique concerns can pay significant dividends now and in the future, helping your organization diversify and maintain a positive reputation while ensuring that top talent across the board gets the support they need to stick around.


About the Author

Nancy Estep-Critchett is a founding Partner of Blue Rock Search, with oversight of the Franchise Practice. She has 30 years of successful working experience as a business advisor and executive recruiter in the franchising space. Nancy has built solid relationships which have spanned decades with industry professionals and internationally recognized brands.


Blue Rock Search is an MBE Certified, minority-owned executive search firm, an SRA Network member, a Hunt Scanlon Top 10 global recruiting firm, and a member of the Hunt Scanlon HR/Diversity Recruiting Power 65.  We specialize in the targeted identification, assessment, and placement of executives across four distinct practice areas: Human ResourcesFranchiseHigher Education, and Customer Experience.


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