We’ve all heard the statistics: only 53 of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 Companies are women. It sounds like a fair number, until you realize that 53 CEOs is only ten percent of the total. Oftentimes, we look at the issues and inequalities in the workplace which prevent women from rising to those types of high-powered positions. This is all well and good, but what happens when women do make it to these positions? And furthermore, why aren’t they staying in that position for long?
According to the 2022 McKinsey Women in the Workplace report, 10.5 percent of female leaders from 333 companies in the US and Canada stepped down, up from its previous resting point between 6 and 7 percent. Thus, in a world where women are working tirelessly to climb up in the workforce, these same women stepping down from their hard-earned positions in an unprecedentedly short amount of time.
Recently, Susan Wojcicki, the CEO of YouTube, stepped down from her position and left the company entirely. When asked for her reasons, she said it was to “start a new chapter focused on my family, health, and personal projects I’m passionate about”. Marne Levine, chief business officer of Meta, stepped down after 13 years just a few days before, so that she could “recharge and prioritize some quality time with family.” Levine is the third female leader in Meta to step down and leave the company recently. Both of these high-powered businesswomen cited that they wished to spend more time with their families. Is this true? Have women who rise to high-powered roles reached the top and changed their minds? Or, perhaps, the state of workplace environments globally is so toxic, that even those women who manage to reach the top can’t stand to stay.
It’s not just happening in the United States, and it’s not just happening in business. In January, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister resigned. Sturgeon had been in the position for more than 8 years (the longest of any First Minister thus far), but stepped down because, “I get up in the morning and I tell myself, and usually I convince myself, that I’ve got what it takes to keep going and keep going and keep going, but then I realize that that’s maybe not as true.” Sturgeon claims to believe that it is simply the right time for her to step down, despite her party’s and constituents’ dismay. Jacinda Arden, too, stepped down from her duty as Prime Minister of New Zealand, saying that she just didn’t have enough energy to keep going.
There is some causation yet to be explored, which is affecting the careers of these women. What is happening in their positions that they feel that the express need to step down, and, worse, is this going to become a trend? Are we going to continue to lose women in power, and will we ever know the real reason why? Unfortunately, the research on this topic is limited, as it’s merely a proposed trend in women’s employment. Since there are so few female higher-ups in the politics and business, determining the relevance of certain events as whether they will before. According to Alexis Krivkovich, “Lots of men leave their positions, but we analyze and scrutinize when women leaders do in a different way. If we had a lot more women prime ministers and CEOs and leaders at the very top, when we had one retire or exit, it wouldn’t feel like such a loss.” So, the issue may not necessarily be that all women are going to follow this trend, but the idea that so many of the few women CEOs and government officials can leave is frightening, I’d imagine, to all women.
Believe it or not, a common excuse for men who are being pushed out of their high-powered positions is to ‘spend more time with family.’ Not because it’s likely or understandable, but because it’s so unbelievable that men would step down from their work to be with their families, that this excuse makes it obvious that they were fired while allowing them to save face. Yet, these women are saying that they’re stepping down from their positions to focus on themselves and/or their families, and we’re accepting it as normal. Jennifer Chatman, a scholar at Berkely says to Forbes Magazine, “They are stereotypes which obviously go back to a time when women were principally entrusted with the job of caring for others, but which re-emerge when they propose to take on a role of agency…” These stereotypes for how women of a certain age should think, want, or act tend to affect women in the workplace everywhere, and many are suspecting that women in powerful positions don’t escape it either.
I want to bring attention to this phenomenon because I encourage continued research on it. Especially for aspiring high-powered women, in the choice between a modern systemic understanding of the workplace’s environmental impacts on the careers of women, and an assumption that equality exists for women in power; the former should be prioritized every time.