McKinsey and Company statistics led the moderator’s questions for three panel members at the Arkansas Business Women’s Leadership Summit in Fort Smith. Recent research revealed the country is facing what is being called “the great breakup,” where women are leaving their jobs in unprecedented numbers and at a much higher rate than male counterparts in the same leadership role.
Local panelists Courtney Turner, Tina Gabbard and Dr. Teressa Brown weighed in on what they feel is the largest barrier facing women in the workplace that is leading to these departures.
Gabbard, market VP of Cox Communications, says women often don’t ask for what they want or deserve.
“We always think someone will figure it out or discover it,” Gabbard says, “but we need to stop making assumptions about how it’s always been done or how it should be done and make our worth known.”
She advises women to prove their worth and surround themselves with other successful people.
“Make sure you have an accountability circle and find people that will support what you do. Set your goals and set them high.”
Turner, a human resources business partner at ABB, echoes this sentiment.
“You must be assertive, or you won’t get heard," Turner says. "Being timid is not going to benefit you in the long run. When you put yourself out there, that’s when you’ll see change.”
When asked about the progress of supporting women in the workplace, Brown, who serves as dean of the school of physical therapy at Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, says advancements have been made, but there is still room for vast improvement.
“We’re doing well, but we still have room for improvement in mentorship,” she says. “There’s still a lot of competition among women, and sometimes we act like there can only be one or two female leaders in an organization. We need to move past feeling threatened and move into open communication.”
Turner adds that flexibility in the workplace is becoming more common and is helping support women, especially working mothers.
“A lot of companies are also developing women leadership communities within the organization," Turner says. "At ABB, we have a women’s Encompass group for women with mentorship and sponsorship programs. I think we’re making headway in supporting women in leadership roles.”
When asked about defining and maintaining company culture, Brown says consistency is key:
“Culture is hard because it’s ever-changing,” she says. “Every time you add a new person to the team, there’s a chance that culture changes. Be consistent, verbalize your expectations and set the groundwork for what you want the culture to be, and reinforce it. Be a consistent role model for what you want that culture to look like.”
Brown acknowledges that focusing on the entire organization’s culture can be overwhelming, but encourages employees to concentrate on improving the culture within their small divisions.
Panelists also gave their opinions on the trendy topic of “quiet quitting,” the idea that employees do just what is in their job description, but not nothing extra. Turner says this can be mitigated by having individual conversations with employees.
“If someone is pulling back, there must be a catalyst that is prompting them to pull back," Turner says. "Are they feeling undervalued? Do they feel underpaid? Is there something going on at home that we don’t know about? It warrants a transparent conversation with that member of your team.”
“At Cox, we call those courageous conversations," Gabbard adds. "When we talk about someone being stuck, it’s because no one took the risk to say, ‘I believe in you, but I’ve noticed you’re not as engaged as you have been — is something going on?’”
Brown got a few laughs from the audience when she called quiet quitting “workplace dissatisfaction with a sexy new label.” She believes it's important to see the concept from the employee’s perspective and from the leader’s perspective in order to totally understand the situation.
“I think it depends on if it’s an individual contributor role or a leadership role," Turner says. "Some people choose to work their 8-5 and do a good job while they are there without ambitions to climb the ladder, and that’s perfectly OK. Leaders are the ones who can’t be complacent.”
Closing out the session, the panelists were asked to share a career failure that attendees could learn from.
“Learn to say no,” Gabbard says. “Women have this FOMO thing where we think we must do it all. We must push all these giant boulders up the hill — be a good human, a good employee, a good mother. You can still do a lot of things, but you don’t have to do all the things. When I stopped doing that and stopped watering myself down, I became more visible. You don’t have to be perfect to be amazing.”