Where Are the Women?

It’s Not—Usually—About the Money

Accenture lost a valuable contributor when Michelle Wetzler, a highly respected five-year consultant, resigned—for much less money and security—to join Keen IO, a San Francisco-based startup. Wetzler, 28, was on a fast path at Accenture, almost certain to make managing partner or senior executive. However, despite Accenture’s entreaties for Wetzler to stay, the company lost its considerable investment in her development, direct billings and leadership.

Here’s the bad news for the CEO of every company who believes in the business benefits of gender diversity and inclusion: the loss of high-performance female leadership is usually not about money or job security. Those are things that CEOs can actually do something about. Accenture lost Wetzler because its well-intentioned ideals of employee empowerment and work-life balance efforts crumbled before the reality of manager demands for endless hours of travel, stress and overwork.

“Accenture says it values work-life balance,” Wetzler says, “but my experience is that company leaders prioritized other values.” She started to take a hard look at her career when she realized that most project leaders were under-reporting the hours of team members. The tipping point came when she realized that junior members of the team were modeling themselves on her own crazy hours. “I first started considering leaving when one of my direct reports actually asked my permission to eat dinner,” she recalls.

This discussion is not intended as a criticism of Accenture, a company which is certainly ahead of many others in encouraging the development of women leaders and creating a flexible work culture. Culture is determined by behavior; and as long as company leaders from the CEO down model an up-or-out model that says the surest route to success is overwork, then even the most well-funded employee empowerment initiatives will be futile. Keeping the pipeline filled with the most capable women leaders requires organizations to match ideals with reality.

To reverse this trend, CEOs need to do more than just ensure gender-equity at the career-entry stage. They have to challenge and ultimately replace the up-and-out culture of most for-profit organizations. The name of the game is retention. If CEOs fail to do this by holding managers accountable, many of their most valuable contributors—and not just women—will opt out.