Employers who equate 'female' with 'quitter' may be surprised by latest research findings

December 23, 2001

Voluntary turnover rates for female managers found to be slightly less than for male managers

WASHINGTON -- The belief that women are more likely than men to quit their managerial jobs for family or other reasons -- a belief that could be the cause of discrimination in women's hiring or promotion -- may be outdated, according to new research on the turnover rates of male and female managers. In a study published in this month's American Psychological Association's (APA) Journal of Applied Psychology, female managers' actual voluntary turnover rates were slightly lower than those of male managers.

In a study of 26,359 managers (11,076 women and 15,283 men) working full-time for a large multinational financial services organization at many locations throughout the United States, voluntary turnover rates for male and female managers were very similar. Seventeen percent of the male managers left voluntarily and 16.5 percent of the female managers left voluntarily. Study authors Karen S. Lyness, Ph.D., of Baruch College, City University of New York and Michael K. Judiesch, Ph.D., of Manhattan College, also found that recently promoted women were less likely to resign than recently promoted men, and managers with graduate degrees who took family leaves were no more likely to resign than non-leave-taking managers.

The researchers say their results may be different from some previous studies because most prior research on gender differences in employee turnover did not focus on managers and did not distinguish voluntary from involuntary turnover. Also, most of the prior studies used data from the 1970's or 1980's, and the new findings, using data collected between 1992 and 1995, may reflect changes that have occurred over the years in women's lifestyles or commitment to their careers.

"Our finding that recently promoted women were less likely to resign than recently promoted men provides some insights for employers about what they might do to retain talented women," said the authors. However, the positive effects of promotion for both genders only held true if the promotion had occurred within the past 11 months. The "What have you done for me lately?" effect may be operating, according to the researchers, "such that a promotion creates an expectation for the manager that he or she will continue to advance and if another promotion is not received within the expected time period, the manager's unmet expectations may cause him or her to begin an external job search." Employers may want to consider using other types of incentives that are delayed rather than immediate, such as stock options, as retention tools, say the authors.

The study also found that only two percent (486) of the managers took family leaves during the 41-month period and about twenty-four percent of them subsequently resigned. Although managers who took family leaves were generally more likely to resign than other managers, this did not hold for leave-taking managers with graduate degrees. This finding "provides some good news for organizations because these well-educated managers are likely to be employees who companies would like to retain," according to the authors, "and underscores the need to view family leave takers as individuals rather than making stereotypic assumptions about them as a group."
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Article: "Are Female Managers Quitters? The Relationships of Gender, Promotions, and Family Leaves of Absence to Voluntary Turnover," Karen S. Lyness, Baruch College, City University of New York and Michael K. Judiesch, Manhattan College; Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 86, No. 6.

Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office or at http://www.apa.org/journals/apl/press_releases/december_2001/apl8661127.html

Karen S. Lyness, Ph.D., can be reached at (646) 312-3641 or by e-mail at karen_lyness@baruch.cuny.edu and Michael K. Judiesch, Ph.D., can be reached at (718) 862-7888 or by e-mail at mjudiesc@manhattan.edu.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association
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