Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays.

Note to readers: WRAL TechWire would like to hear from you about views expressed by our contributors. Please send email to: info@wraltechwire.com.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Each year, McKinsey and LeanIn.Org issue Women in the Workplace, a report drawn from hundreds of thousands of touchpoints with women across corporate America. This year’s report revealed that the workplace is in the midst of what they called the “Great Breakup.” The idea is that women leaders are not only demanding more from their organizations, but they are leaving jobs at the highest rates ever reported. 

In case you didn’t just break out in a bit of a sweat after reading that last sentence, let me explain this in more direct terms – women leaders (already significantly underrepresented in executive circles) are more willing and able to go to your competitors. That means productivity, collaboration, creativity and profits are walking out the door because you haven’t figured out how to make your women leaders see and feel their importance. 

Donald Thompson

According to Women in the Workplace study, the four reasons they are leaving are all culture-centered:

– Women “face headwinds” (often unspoken) that prevent promotion.

– Microaggressions have indicated to them that they aren’t valued.

– Leading employee well-being and inclusion efforts isn’t rewarded.

– They want to work for companies that “prioritize flexibility, employee well-being and DEI.”

The challenge – right now – for C-suite leaders is that an entire generation of women leaders and future leaders are watching what’s happening and then voting with their feet. “I’ve asked many times what I can do to get promoted, and I don’t get a good answer,” said one respondent. “I’m thinking of leaving. And it will be my company’s loss since they didn’t offer me the opportunity to advance. I hit a ceiling that didn’t need to be there.” So, not only is your top woman leader thinking about leaving, but her departure may very well trigger a wholesale exodus by other women who see that loss as a signal that they aren’t valued.


If you’ve read this column regularly, then you know that I value women leaders and The Diversity Movement is a women-led company. For example, this week we announced that our vice president of operations, Kristie Davis, has been promoted to chief financial officer (CFO), a role responsible for our fiscal and operational success now and into the future. Her promotion is indicative of how seriously we take the role of women executives in leading our organization. 

I have also written about building women leaders in the workplace, providing three recommendations, which center on identifying high-potential candidates early; giving clear, direct, actionable feedback; and making professional development and sponsorship part of career development planning. In addition to these points, I would add that emphasizing the value of teamwork and collaboration is another way to acknowledge the strengths of women executives. 

I have witnessed firsthand and heard over and over in speaking with other C-suite leaders and board members that this new economy is hyperfocused on culture at the center of workplace excellence, where women’s natural empathetic leadership style is highly valued. If that’s the case, then we should dig deeper into the barriers women are facing and deliberately knock them down. 

For example, the McKinsey report reveals that many women are passed over at the first-level managerial promotion, which they dub a “broken rung.” As a result, fewer women are elevated versus men, which has a larger consequence over time. At The Diversity Movement, we have seen this kind of breakdown at the frontline manager level across many organizations when it comes to culture transformation. This is a place where data and analytics are incredibly valuable in uncovering challenges that may not have been on the leadership team’s radar.

From the company perspective, managers are confronted with issues they were not trained to deal with, from deskless teams to collaboration across time zones. Often they don’t have the tools to undo the old thinking that keeps them from maximizing gains in technology and talent. What we have seen time and again is that filling this gap must begin with education and awareness. The first step is identifying the challenge and then finding deliberate tools to make meaningful changes.


While the Women in the Workplace study points to how women frequently find the modern workplace wanting, I have worked with many women leaders who are thriving in today’s compassion- and empathy-driven workplace because they share those traits with their teams and are more willing than their male counterparts to do smart things, like share the credit with teammates when something great happens. This is a leadership characteristic built for the new economy.

I also think many women leaders have used their historic disenfranchisement as a lens to see the workplace differently. As a Black CEO, I can relate in many ways to women leaders because there’s an expectation that the road ahead is going to be a little harder. You never take success for granted – it is fought for versus being given in an entitled sense. That notion aligns perfectly with my own story of how we win together based on teamwork and growing together. 

To avert the “Great Breakup,” C-suite leaders and managers must continue to make culture change a difference-maker in an authentic way that employees value. Allow women leaders, for example, to get tangible rewards for the natural, instinctive leadership traits they bring with them to work. A level of accountability must be instituted up and down the organization to ensure that men and women are getting equal opportunities for promotion at every stage. 

As we look toward 2023, it is way past time to recognize that the only thing standing in the way of increased women leadership is our outdated thinking and policies. We can do better for women at every stage of the corporate structure and we certainly should, since we know that it is the best outcome for our organizations, families and communities. 

About the Author 

Donald Thompson is CEO and co-founder of The Diversity Movement. His leadership memoir, Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, is available now. He has extensive experience as an executive and board member, including digital marketing agency WalkWest. Donald is a thought leader on goal achievement, culture change and driving exponential growth. An entrepreneur, keynote speaker, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach, he also serves as a board member for organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. Donald also hosts the “High Octane Leadership” podcast. The Diversity Movement (TDM) enables organizations to build and strengthen culture by tying real-world business outcomes to diversity, equity, and inclusion via a scalable employee experience platform. The microlearning library, “Microvideos by The Diversity Movement,” was named a Fast Company2022 World Changing Ideas.” DEI Navigator is a “chief diversity officer in a box” subscription service that gives organizations the ability to scale DEI efforts quickly, particularly for diversity leaders who are a department of one. Connect or follow Donald on Linkedin to learn more.