Half of working women in Wisconsin are considering quitting, report says

Last updated on December 13th, 2021 at 01:21 pm

Half of working women in Wisconsin are considering quitting their jobs, according to a new report from Kane Communications Group underscoring the pandemic’s impact on women in the workforce.

The Milwaukee-based communications firm released Thursday the results of its “State of Working Women in Wisconsin” study, which polled a random sample of 980 women from across the age and industry spectrum.

The survey results provide local insight on the widely reported national labor upheaval resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and finds the job dissatisfaction rate among women in the state outpaces national averages. According to the McKinsey & Company’s “Women in the Workplace” report released earlier this year, 40% women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs nationally, compared to 50% of working women in Wisconsin. Women working in retail, food service and hospitality reported even higher rates of discontent, with 60% saying they are considering leaving their jobs, according to the Kane report.

Feeling undervalued and under-appreciated, high stress levels, lack of adequate communication from their employer and pay were cited as the main drivers of job dissatisfaction among women, according to the Kane report.

Kimberly Kane
Kimberly Kane

The study, which was commissioned by Kane and conducted by Santiago Global Consulting, was designed to gauge Wisconsin working women’s current feelings of well-being, support and satisfaction with their jobs and industries, and provides employers with recommendations for how to address those issues. Participants were surveyed via telephone and text messaging, and Kane held listening sessions with more than two dozen working women to get their input.

Among those surveyed, just over half (54%) were in non-managerial, entry-level roles, 31% were in middle management, and 15% were in senior management or executive roles.

Initially, the firm planned to use the data to help clients with their retention efforts, but after analyzing the results decided the findings should be made available more widely, said Kimberly Kane, president and chief executive officer of Kane Communications Group.

“There was so much interesting information,” Kane said. “… What we were learning was big.”

In every age category, the top reason Wisconsin working women cited that they would leave their job is feeling undervalued in their current role, which outpaced other reasons including pay, stress, family reasons or not liking the hours.

“It’s a wake-up call for Wisconsin employers. They have to take what women in the workplace are telling them seriously and they have to take intentional steps to change,” Kane said.

Broken down by demographics, 42% of African American women cited feeling undervalued in their role as the top reason they consider quitting, and nearly one-third of Hispanic/Latina women said the same.

Those findings reinforce what previous surveys of working women have found, Kane said.

“The resounding reason that so many women in Wisconsin are considering quitting their job is because they feel undervalued and unappreciated by their employers,” she said. “Unfortunately, that data is not new. We have seen for decades working women feel undervalued and unappreciated by their employers. What is new is that women today are acting on that.”

Nationally, more than 2.5 million women left the workforce during the first year of the pandemic, compared to 1.8 million men, according to the  U.S. Labor Department. Women have also returned to the workforce at a slower rate than men.

In Wisconsin, the gap between women thinking about leaving their jobs and those actually making an exit is wide, however. Just 5% of Wisconsin working women left the workforce in the past year and a half, according to the Kane report.

The pandemic exacerbated existing stressors, as women took on additional childcare and family responsibilities while maintaining full-time employment and in some cases working from home.

Of those surveyed in Wisconsin, 68% said they experienced “some, very or extreme” levels of stress recently, compared to 50% among women nationally. Among women working in manufacturing, transportation, energy and agriculture industries, that number rose to 78%.

One-quarter of women surveyed said they do not think their employer cares about their mental health, and 20% disagree that their employer’s policies support mental health.

Meanwhile, half of working women in the state have jobs that offer flexible hours or work-from-home options. Less than half (46%) said their jobs offer paid family leave.

Childcare also continues to be a concern for working women, Kane said. Among those with children at home, 81% said they are at jobs that don’t offer childcare support.

Employers with policies that attract today’s working women offer benefits like paid parental leave, family-supporting programs and accommodating schedules that coincide with school drop-off and pick-up schedules, Kane said.

“There are a lot of creative strategies that progressive employers are beginning to put into place to recognize the complete picture that women bring as important members of the workforce,” Kane said, noting the traditional work environment was designed for and by men.

While many employers are focused on recruiting new talent — and are spending a significant amount of money doing so — Kane said there’s an opportunity to invest more resources in retaining existing employees.

Acknowledging that paid family leave is expensive for employers, Kane said the business and government sectors should partner to develop solutions to the issue.

“I don’t believe it’s a cost that employers alone should bear,” she said. “But if it’s a barrier for moms to be in the workplace, if it’s one of the reasons working moms aren’t able to work at their full potential, I think employers have a vested interest in working with government to solve that problem.”

Beyond more flexibility, Kane said 88% of women polled said they want to work for companies that are purpose-driven in addition to producing high-quality products or services.

“Women want to work for employers who care about the community and care about the world,” she said. “That’s especially important to the millennial and Gen Z generations, who make their primary decisions based on personal ethics and really evaluate companies against what they stand for as corporate citizens.”

Employers that don’t change their policies and practices are at risk of losing employees to ones that are more progressive, Kane said.

“The women who are no longer in the workplace do not want to go back to the traditional work environment, and women who are in the workplace today need the traditional workplace to change and recognize the value they bring,” Kane said.

“I think the call to action for employers is really that they should make retaining women one of their top priorities for 2022 and that starts with recognizing at the top that change needs to happen,” she added. “… The data is comprehensive, and the recommendations are put together by working women, so employers have a playbook to help them make retaining women a priority.”

Kane is hosting a webinar on Friday, Dec. 17 from 12-1 p.m. for employers to learn more about the research findings and recommendations.

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