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Calling It Quits – Why More Senior Women Are Leaving Their Leadership Roles

Written by: Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


In this article, I look at why more and more women are leaving their senior roles and I talk to Eleri Dodsworth, Partner and Regional Leader of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practice for EMEA at Stanton Chase a global Executive Search and Consulting Firm about her observations.

Senior woman with a box with office supplies in the office

For women, the fight for equality is a very real one, and once again I am reminded of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report in 2022 which notes that it will take another 132 years to reach gender equality worldwide. I would love to be able to report rapid progress but the report sadly lets us know that only one in five countries have managed to close the gap by 1% in the past year, with Iceland leading the field.

But what is even more worrying is the regression that is seen by the large number of senior women who are exiting their jobs. Of course, some of them are high profile – the amazing Jacinda Ardern who told the world that she no longer had “enough in the tank,” then Nicola Sturgeon who told us she could “no longer give everything of herself to her career.” And then there was Susan Wojcicki who was CEO of YouTube for 9 years stating her reasons were “to start a new chapter focused on my family, health and personal projects”. What we don’t know is, are these the real reasons, or, as so many women are, are they just so fatigued with knowing nothing will change in certain organisations and that they would rather just make a clean break?

Whatever the reasons, there are the unprecedented number of women leaving their jobs according to Mckinsey’s latest Women in the Workplace report in partnership with LeanIn Org. It is what is being cited as “The Great Break-Up”, which, considering it is already clear that the number of women in senior positions is under-represented, is extremely worrying.

What is causing this exodus? On our Women’s Development Programme RISE we talk a lot about the challenges that women face in reaching senior positions and these are some of the reasons women state:

Women face more hurdles than men at work and can have their authority undermined in many different ways, which make it harder for them to progress. They are tired of constantly pushing harder for promotion than men and having to communicate in different ways to get their voices heard.

After COVID19 many women wanted to rethink their careers, prioritising flexibility and well-being – if their organisation does not espouse these values, they reconsider their career. They are seeking real flexibility

Women leaders often feel overworked and under-appreciated which leads to burnout.

Women leaders are exhausted and undervalued – often taking on more roles at work such as leading D, E and I initiatives or mentoring other women to show their commitment. Add to this the burden, for some women, of raising a family and you can see how fatigue can become exacerbated.

I spoke with Eleri Dodsworth who told me:

“No wonder women are leaving the workforce; they are weary of trying to fit into a system that was not made for them and is not fit for purpose. We should consider whether flexibility and autonomy might be one of the reasons why there is greater female representation in non-executive director roles than in executive roles.

We need a significant shift in mindset to take culture, engagement and belonging seriously. We must change the workplace through building flexible and autonomous working cultures where the focus is not on input but output.”

When I asked her about some of the reasons that she felt women were leaving, she cited many, but here are a few which Eleri describes as ‘Gaps’:

“The Authority Gap – a measure of how much more seriously we take men than we take women. Historically, women have tended to adopt masculine leadership traits to fit in with a masculine workplace and system.

The Maternity Gap – the motherhood penalty is real. The more maternity leaves a woman takes, the less seriously she is taken at work. Also, women can feel grateful to be given a part time job and this is when their careers can stall. A recent UK study states that by the age of 45, 82% of women are mothers. The average age of a first-time mother is 30 and it is at this point that the gender pay gap begins, increasing from 1% to 14.9% by the age of 40.

The Parent Gap – organisations need to change their policies and approach to suit the needs of the modern family, crucially elevating the importance of raising children by enabling parents to look after their own children while also encouraging and providing clear career development.

The Domestic Gap – Men looking after their children are sometimes described as ‘babysitting’ rather than being their father. The role of the father as a caregiver needs to be recognised as important as the role of the mother as a leader. Men need to fairly share the practical domestic tasks in the home as well as the ‘hidden load’, also known as the ‘mental load’; this is the immense and unacknowledged job or planning and organising everything. Women typically shoulder this responsibility and need significant help to lighten the load.”

And of course, a big, and still widely unspoken reason women leave their leadership roles is menopause. Whilst some organisations are becoming much better at talking about it and creating groups for women to support each other, may companies still do not give sufficient support and education about the transition that females, and in particular more mature females are going through. During perimenopause and menopause, women can experience a whole host of symptoms including chronic anxiety and paranoia, sleeplessness and brain fog. This combination of symptoms can drive women to doubt themselves and suffer acute imposter syndrome. I coach many senior women executives who have achieved major roles in organisations through years of hard work, and often many sacrifices. It is shocking how many tell me they are ready to give it all up and go and take a simpler job because they cannot cope with the menopausal symptoms – which can be so easy to rectify with a knowledgeable doctor and clinic and an empathetic organisation.

In summary, losing women leaders will have a lasting impact on your company – when you consider how much work it takes to attract and train them and get them to senior level then every person exiting spells disaster. Eleri adds “In creating diverse and sustainable boards and leadership teams, it is vital that we understand the critical relationship between ethics, good governance and belonging.”

So, time to do everything you can to retain them, beginning with looking at your pipeline and identifying where you are leaking talent. Rethinking systems, change communication and challenge processes and policies which get in the way of women being promoted. Find ways to give women flexibility and trust them to deliver, wherever they are working from.

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Gillian Jones-Williams, Senior Level Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Gillian is Managing Director of Emerge Development Consultancy which she founded 25 years ago. She is a Master Executive Coach working with many CEOs and managing Directors globally. She is also an international speaker and in 2020 was named by f: Entrepreneur as one of the leading UK Female Entrepreneurs in the I also campaign.

Gillian founded the RISE Women’s Development Programme which is delivered both in the UK and the Middle East, and Saudi and is her absolute passion.

With thanks to Eleri Dodsworth for her contributions and insights. Eleri is a Partner at the London office of Stanton Chase and Head of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practice Group for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Eleri represents the firm on the AESC Diversity Leadership Council. The AESC sets the quality standard for the executive search and leadership consulting profession. Eleri can be contacted at

If you want to know more about our Diversity and Inclusion solutions please get in touch. We are working with many organisations on their Diversity and Inclusion interventions, strategies, policies and programmes. For more information contact us at 01329 820580 or via



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