what (future) female leaders want: how businesses can attract and retain top female employees

Updated: Jul 16


As part of our mission to close the gender leadership gap, the female factor brings together HR decision makers regularly, and gives them room to exchange ideas and best practices. We survey employees of the participating companies to find out what their aspiring leaders really need and want from their employers.


The results of the study help paint a clear picture of what businesses of all kinds should be focusing on to attract more female candidates and retain their top female employees.



what (future) female leaders want: how businesses can attract and retain top female talents
what female leaders want: priorities for women in the workplace

flexible working hours tops the list of employees' priorities (71%)


The term "new work" is almost always associated with flexible working hours, being a hallmark of the new digital age and new ways of working. Companies such as Sanofi introduced this innovative work model even before the Coronavirus crisis. In a bottom-up approach, they asked all employees what they would like to have as a better balance for work, leisure and family. The suggestions were incorporated into the concept. As a result, employees are free to choose when and where to work between 6:00 and 22:00. The prerequisite is that this has to be agreed with the team and team leaders.


Often, depending on the position of the employees, companies can decide who is fully flexible and can work mobile, and who must be available at certain times. For example, technology companies such as NTT, whose business model involves working with customers, offer a model of mobile working that includes core working hours to ensure accessibility for customers.


However, one of the challenges companies face is that the terms of labour law have not had time to adjust to employers' desire for flexible working hours. Employers recognise the need to put this flexibility on a stronger legal footing and support proactive companies and, ultimately, employees.


equal pay and equal growth opportunities remain paramount for female employees


It is common knowledge that diverse teams work better, yet it is clear that many companies face the challenge of ensuring diversity in the workplace.

However, when companies openly state that they want to increase the quota of women, but for some reason it still fails, it is strongly recommended to focus on identifying the roots of the problem and the possible systemic patterns that have influenced it, and then define a strategy to address them.


A prime example of this systemic pattern is unconscious interview bias.


UniCredit Bank Austria, for example, conducted training on this topic in which they showed their employees a recording of the same interview, but from different perspectives. This experiment showed that unconscious biases are present in the recruiters' minds and moreover influence their decision-making. That's why it's important to raise awareness of subconscious, automatic thinking patterns, especially among recruiters, if you want to achieve diversity in the workplace.


Diversity cannot consist of individual measures, but is a topic that goes over the years of a change process. So it is not enough to keep your eyes open, you have to broaden your horizons. For this reason, UniCredit Bank Austria, organises a diversity and inclusion week once a year, dedicating each day of the week to a particular aspect of diversity.


Although sometimes even companies' efforts at inclusion do not change the fact that fewer job applications are coming in from women, especially in technology fields. While analysing this paradox, TheVentury experimented with different job titles in their job ad. By replacing the word “senior” with the word “junior” more female candidates applied for the position. Such an experiment helps to attract more women who tend to be more hesitant to respond to a higher position, and then reinforce them in the team so that they are perceived as senior.

what (future) female leaders want: how businesses can attract and retain top female talents
equal pay and equal growth opportunities remain paramount for female employees

companies need to focus on inclusive leadership (50%)


Quite interestingly, many companies prefer to focus on the concept of inclusive leadership rather than on the distinction between men and women. Although there are many competences that are mostly considered as female qualities, they can nevertheless be included in the description of inclusive leadership, such as authenticity, curiosity, empathy, openness, tolerance and flexibility.


For me there is no exactly female or male leadership, but situational leadership. That is the Mantra for me, and not the difference between male and female - Petra Hauser | Country Manager, Talent Garden Austria


employees are looking for a culture of feedback and transparency (40%)


Many companies acknowledge the importance of a feedback system and therefore are actively working on its improvement. Wiener Linien, for example, is currently implementing a major project to create a leadership and feedback guide to better support managers. They have also introduced a new measure that gives managers the opportunity to reward employees for exceptional performance that cannot be bought any other way. It's a way of celebrating achievements that add value to the company.


Last year, Volksbank launched "Volksbank Success Stories". Each executive had a conversation with their employees about a personal success they had achieved at Volksbank. In the end they selected ten such stories and presented them on a video at the managers' conference. With this, they wanted to provide an impulse for building identity and pride. Another measure is the Wo mentoring programme they also developed for their female managers and high-potential employees. Managers (including board members) can act as mentors for women to support them in their personal, professional and career development.


The female factor helps companies to achieve their diversity goals and, in addition, equips them with the necessary tools to create a safe and comfortable environment for employees of all genders, ages and races.


Together, we aim to contribute to meaningful and sustainable change at all levels, enabling the next generation of female leaders to take their place at the table, building confidence, competence and connections. To maintain our focus on diversity and inclusion, we are committed to voicing these ideas over and over again until they become common practice among companies.


Whether your goal is to create a better and more inclusive world, invite diverse talent or help keep female employers, we’d be happy to assist you.


Eager to learn more about attracting female applicants and retain your employees? Download our free white paper on "how to attract female employees" including a checklist for your business.



This blog post is based on an article published in Sheconomy magazine.