Why Young Women Really Leave Their Jobs

If you’re thinking that the talented young women departing your organization are going home to start families, you might want to think again.

In compiling its special report, What Executives Need to Know About Millennial Women, the International Consortium for Executive Development Research recently interviewed executives and “rising female stars” between the ages of 22 and 35 at a group of seven organizations including BlackRock, eBay and HubSpot, according to ICEDR, which supplemented these interviews with surveys of talent leaders and millennials from a handful of other companies.

In doing so, ICEDR study authors Lauren Noël and Christie Hunter Arscott found the majority of business leaders they interviewed were laboring under the impression that most millennial women leave their companies around age 30 in an effort to better balance work lives with family demands, or because they are about to start a family.

The millennial women taking part in the study, however, told a different story.

Indeed, 65 percent of young female respondents said that finding another job with better pay was the top reason why they quit their last job. A lack of learning and development opportunities was cited by 62 percent of millennial-age women, while 56 percent pointed to a dearth of “interesting and meaningful” work, and another 56 percent walked away because of what they saw as an imbalance between the effort they expended and the compensation they received.

This isn’t to say that twenty- and thirty-something women don’t value work/life balance, though, as 54 percent of women polled indicated they would soon be starting a family and would like to spend more time with them.

If the execs taking part in this study were taken aback to find their responses didn’t quite jibe with those of their young female stars, they weren’t the only ones.

“When considering the main reasons why women around age 30 leave organizations, one might expect the primary influences to be motherhood or difficulty integrating work and life,” the authors write in the report.

“Surprisingly, young women identified finding a higher paying job, a lack of learning and development, and a shortage of interesting and meaningful work as the primary reasons why they may leave.”

Unexpectedly, the authors also found female participants in their 20s offering similar responses.

“There is a popular perception that millennials’ desires will change over time. Interestingly, our survey revealed that women in their 20s largely do not leave organizations for different reasons than women in their 30s,” the authors write, noting that four of the five top reasons for leaving were identical across the two age groups.

Noël and Hunter Arscott—both millennials—offer some “key actions” employers can take to help attract, engage and retain female employees in this age group.

For example, they urge leaders to provide extra support to women during key transitional phases in their professional lives, “including university to first job and changing roles. Start early and pursue targeted interventions at critical career and life junctions.”

Employers must also understand that millennial womens’ input has “broader talent implications” throughout the organization, say Noël and Hunter Arscott.

“By implementing strategies and programs informed by the needs of millennial women, leaders will simultaneously be addressing what matters most to broader talent pools.”

Ultimately, “motherhood is not the primary reason women around 30 are leaving organizations,” they write. “Focus on what matters most: pay women fairly, challenge them with learning and development opportunities, and provide them with meaningful work.”