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Why women are leaving traditional careers

Dec 07th, 2016

Women now represent nearly half of the paid workforce in Canada (47.2%) according to Statistics Canada[1].

This has directly translated into an increase in dual income families and more significantly, an increase by 133% of women working with children under 3 years old since 1976[2].

And yet in 2015, women only held 35.5% of all management positions and 33.3% of all senior management positions[3]. 

So we are employed in the workforce at virtually equal numbers but not in management and senior management levels.

This is what is described in the biz as a “leaky pipeline”. A leaky pipeline is a metaphor for the way that women disappear from some careers, especially as it relates to senior level roles.

Over the past year I have researched, interviewed and surveyed over 250 women to really understand:

  • The reasons why women are leaving the corporate environment and not pursuing traditional leadership roles
  • If they are not dropping out of the workforce, what they are doing
  • How employers can attract and retain women throughout certain stages of their careers

I will share my insights with you through subsequent blogs. Please note that these are my own working hypotheses generated from personal experience, member surveys and from personal conversations with women making decisions about their career path.

So why are women leaving traditional roles at Manager+ levels?

My original theory was derived from my personal experience, that it had to be all or nothing and I didn’t want to compromise on my work or on being the parent that I wanted to be. So I chose to create my own path (starting tellent) where I could see the opportunities more clearly than following a traditional corporate path.

However, as I have learned more about the industry and spoken to our members, I have revised that hypothesis slightly. 

My working hypothesis

The reason women are leaving traditional careers are twofold: one, they are not progressing or being compensated at the same rate as their male counterparts, and two, the timing aligns with having, or starting, a family.

The experience of many women I have spoken to seems to be you work hard, build your career, and encounter barriers (including unconscious bias, discrimination and unequal pay). This timeline coincides with thinking about a family. So, we have a child and return to work only to find more barriers have been erected (associated with being a mother) and there is little support (out-dated policies, lack of flexibility and childcare access). Well at this point we might as well have another baby and leave for good because it becomes too hard. It is not worth the fight when you can see no clear path to continue into traditional leadership roles and alternatives exist.

My working assumption is corroborated by research conducted by Ambition Research which states that 62% of women they surveyed said [the lack of] career progression was their main reason for exiting their current company, followed by salary (49%), company culture (36%) and work-life balance (35%).

Time and again it is reported that women leave their roles, companies and careers due to the lack of opportunity to progress. I will bet the farm that the decision to leave is made easier by the introduction of other priorities or value shifts. Let me tell you that I have far more will to fight the system when my priorities are not already being stretched and tested elsewhere.

In a live stream interview we conducted with Kirstine Stewart, CSO of DiplyGoViral she recognises that “as Individuals, as women, if we decided that we need to manage our lives in a different way, it doesn’t mean we can’t contribute. The question is, are business ready [to accommodate that]? They will be”.

Tellent started because I saw a huge waste of talent. Women who had ambition and wanted to work but need support from their employers in order to do both well. We are adapting and creating our own courses outside of traditional career paths. As far as I can see, it is the employers who are missing out.

The validation of this hypothesis will help me to determine how and where I can add the most value to you as a member of tellent. Am I way off base? Please share your experiences with me on the facebook group (it is a private group which you can request access).

[1] Statistics Canada, “Table 1 Employment Trends of Women and Men Aged 15 and Over, 1976 to 2009,”Paid Work (2013).
[2] Statistics Canada, Women in Canada: Paid Work 1976-2009 (2010).
[3] Statistics Canada, “Table 282-0009: Labour Force Survey Estimates (LFS), by National Occupational Classification for Statistics (NOC-S) and Sex, Unadjusted for Seasonality TerminatedData Table; (January 2016).


  • Kirsti Stubbs-Coleman
    Posted at 11:19h, 08 December Reply

    I really love that you have interviewed so many people and that you have opinion as well as stats to back all of this up. So fascinating – as someone in HR I completely agree that employers need to catch up – educating women on this information I believe will help bring awareness and therefore create urgency that employers will need in order to see change! I cannot wait to see what comes of Tellent – you are 100% on to something BIG!

  • Karen Glassford
    Posted at 18:33h, 09 December Reply

    Balancing the multiple roles of career and Motherhood benefits society as whole. Not only for this generation but for many generations to come. Jennifer, we support and applaud your commitment and dedication to this vital work. Good Luck with respect to your current and future endeavors!

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    Posted at 20:24h, 21 June Reply

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  • Sealing the Leaky Pipeline: Retaining Female Talent | Canada Career Counselling
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