The Great Breakup and Why It Is Long Overdue

Recently a good friend left a long-time senior position at a tech company. She complained to me that her boss treated her resignation more like a breakup than severing a professional relationship. We rolled our eyes at her boss’s emotional immaturity at the time, but in a way, she was breaking up with her boss. 

You can break up with a friend, your hair stylist, a TV show that jumped the shark, or even your skincare routine when they change the formula. The point is that a breakup need not only apply to romantic relationships. You can and definitely should break up with your toxic boss. 

What is The Great Breakup?

The Great Breakup is a term coined by McKinsey & Company in their 2022 Women in the Workplace study. What McKinsey found was that women are leaving leadership positions at unprecedented rates. Women are fed up with current corporate cultures being unsupportive of their efforts and loyalty, so they are switching jobs at more significant numbers than we have ever seen and far more than their male counterparts. For every woman promoted within a company to a senior-level position, two other senior-level women are leaving. This disparity does not bode well for the future of companies that refuse to change their ways. 

What is the Great Breakup

Why are Women Leaving Leadership Roles?

Women leave leadership positions for many reasons, but most of these boil down to problematic working culture. Any woman in corporate can tell you that there are numerous barriers to success that men don’t even have to consider. 

Several of my friends and colleagues have recently left their leadership positions, and say they always struggled with the isolation of having to bear the burden of microaggressions, male colleagues taking credit for their ideas, exclusion, and other hurdles all on their own. Some of their organizations were small but scaling, and they were often the only woman at the table forced to bite their tongue as they faced one exclusionary problem after another, with no end. Worse than that, the men at the table with them either didn’t see the problem or did not want to acknowledge that it existed. 

Some of the main reasons why women are leaving leadership positions are: 

  • Microaggressions. A microaggression is a subtle act of discrimination used to undermine a marginalized person. Colleagues who use microaggressions are often unaware that they are doing any harm and speak from a place of ignorance rather than malice. This can make confronting them about their behavior challenging as they typically mean well and can go into intense denial when called out. 
  • The “Broken Rung.” The Broken Rung concept highlights inherent biases that prevent women from being promoted out of entry-level positions and into higher levels of management. This promotion pipeline problem will only worsen as senior women continue to leave their leadership positions at drastic rates. 
  • Women are not getting credit for their ideas. An overwhelming percentage of women complain about their male colleagues taking credit for their ideas. 
  • Unpaid DEI Work. DEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. DEI continues to be touted as an important corporate initiative until it’s time to put in the actual work. Women make up most DEI work in their organizations; just like with emotional labor, their efforts are unseen and unpaid. Gen Z is now an essential part of the workforce and the future of corporate. These women under thirty look to senior women to pave the way for them, but there is often no benefit to doing this kind of unpaid labor. 
  • Lack of Flexibility. We all know that control freak of a manager who equates butts in seats with productivity. A colleague once deemed this practice “Productivity Theater,” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Covid changed the way we work and our expectations of work-life balance. These changes are unlikely to disappear into the night, so control freak bosses will continue to lose female leaders if they stay set in their old ways.
  • Lack of Work-Life Balance. Work-Life Balance is crucial to women under thirty who watch senior female leaders and opt out. They don’t like what they see, and who could blame them? We’re killing ourselves to keep up with all the demands of our households and families, work duties, and the unpaid and unseen labor that goes along with them. 
  • Burnout. After reading this list of items, is it any wonder that women are burning out faster? Burnout leads to greater stress levels, health issues, lack of sleep, addiction, and other problems that will literally kill you. No job is worth dying for.

It’s important to note that these issues impact women, but they affect women of color, women with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ women disproportionately. 

    The Great Breakup Woman Suffering from Burnout

    Strategies for Building a Woman Friendly Culture

    Diversity is vital to building a solid organization. If you can’t find a way to be inclusive of women and minorities, you might as well pack it all up and call it a day. Strong leadership teams should be comprised of different people who all tackle problems and view situations from contrasting points of view. The Great Breakup is a shame because 4 out of 5 leaders are already men, and that number is likely to rise as women continue to leave their roles. 

    Mad Men was a phenomenal show but set in an era that would fail us now. Women have agency. Women have money to spend on products and services. How can you sell to women or women of color when your organization is made up entirely of white men shaking hands through cigar smoke? 

    Many business leaders want to foster a more open and welcoming work environment but don’t know how. This can be an incredibly challenging problem to overcome for older leaders who have a harder time pivoting to the evolution of culture. They don’t even know where to start, so let me help. 

    Here are some ways to build a more female-friendly work environment:

    • Expect more support from your managers. A manager’s job is to create and foster opportunities for the employees working under them. If a manager is too busy to check in with their team, consistently roadblocks opportunities, or is dismissive, they are likelier to see their employees walk out the door searching greener pastures. 
    • Flexibility is key. Not all organizations will be able to foster remote work, but we’ve seen that many of them can, so why is there an obsession with getting people back into the office? We can’t go back in time. What’s done is done, and no amount of CEO temper tantrums can change that. Women want greater flexibility at work. They want opportunities for hybrid or remote work or to have the option to work different hours. Why are we measuring productivity by hours logged and not outcomes? Is the paranoia of certain senior leaders worth losing talent over? 
    • Understand that employees need a work-life balance. At my former job, I constantly checked our Slack channels and scoured our websites for any minor problems. The expectation that I would be online 24/7 destroyed my work-life balance and my mental health. Gen Z will never put up with these expectations, and I shouldn’t have either. 
    • Insist that everyone in the organization participates in DEI initiatives, regardless of gender. Unpaid labor should be paid labor, and recognizing the people who are contributing to vital and healthy company initiatives should be common sense. 
    • Acknowledge women. Acknowledge that women are ambitious but often constrained by barriers they did not erect. Call out that VP the next time he tries to take credit for a female leader’s ideas. Beware of “Ostrich Syndrome,” and don’t bury your head in the sand and hope the problem will resolve itself. It won’t. 

    Find ways to break down the barriers together, but understand that it is incumbent upon business leaders to pave the way. Women can’t fix all these issues on their own, and they’ve realized that. That’s why they are leaving. If there can be no change, then what is the point? If loyalty is taken for granted, why bother to stay? Start recognizing the women in leadership roles in your organization today and make damn sure there is no broken rung keeping entry-level women from reaching their goals. 

    The Great Breakup Recognize Women

    What Happens After The Great Breakup? 

    The good news is that women finally feel confident enough to start demanding better for themselves at work. There was a time, not all that long ago when that wasn’t the case. Some women feel that the only recourse available to them is to sit in simmering silence, biting their tongue until it bleeds to keep from firing back when someone undermines them. Please know that a paycheck isn’t worth the amount of disrespect and burnout that you may be tolerating.  

    What McKinsey doesn’t talk about in their report is what happens to these women after they leave their jobs in search of something better. Are they finding better jobs with more diversity, inclusion, and equity? 

    We will see a significant evolution in the market with all these women looking for new opportunities. Not everyone will return to the corporate world, and with men still making up the majority of leadership, things look dire. We should all be prepared for the changes that are likely coming. Maybe we’re on the cusp of The Great Makeup. Time will tell.

    Follow the Girlboss Burnbook to keep up with the latest workplace culture trends affecting women. 




    Founder of Girlboss Burnbook

    Hey there! I’m Jenna, the founder of The Girlboss Burnbook. My mission is to support women feeling isolated in their leadership roles. After leaving the corporate world, I realized many women face the same struggles I did. I wanted to create a platform where we could share our stories and empower each other.

    At The Girlboss Burnbook, you’ll find helpful content. If you resonate with it, please reach out and share your thoughts. I’m always looking for guest contributors to our blog. Let’s collaborate!

    Contact me at I can’t wait to connect with you!