A concerning trend has emerged in the corporate world—female leaders are leaving the workforce at a rate that hasn’t been seen in years. The latest Women in the Workplace study (a joint collaboration between McKinsey and LeanIn.org) reveals a widening gap between women and men who choose to exit the workforce.
The phenomenon paints a disheartening picture for women in the workplace. Many talented women, despite their skills and capabilities, are opting to leave their jobs due to challenges they face in having their voices heard and their needs met. And with women being 41% more likely to experience toxic workplace cultures than men, it’s no surprise that the gender gap in job retention has hit its highest point in eight years.
For companies, this creates an urgent need to address the obstacles women encounter – and find ways to support women in the workforce. According to Dr. Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, the future cost of women leaving the workforce will heavily affect not only their families, but the economy as a whole.
“It will be costly and expensive on so many fronts. First of all, there’s the paychecks—the lost revenue… but I think one thing that’s also very important to think about is the long-term losses and benefits. I think it’s important for folks to realize that women are really feeling the pain now, but ultimately, this is hurting us at a macro level as well.”
Enter Vanessa Jupe – founder and CEO of Leva, an app built to support new moms every step of the way. Leva is an app-based community that links new moms with parenthood experts and other parenting resources. The app also assists new moms in tracking development milestones, and aims to connect new mothers through education and empowerment.
In this eye-opening interview, Vanessa tells us about how Leva helps companies champion women in the workforce, the best company culture she’s experienced, and how she internally builds a female-friendly workplace at Leva.
Why Leva was built for women in the workforce
For Vanessa, the motivation behind Leva stems from her personal experiences in the corporate world as a working mom.
“I founded Leva a couple of years ago to help promote women in the workplace, and also support women when they become new moms.”
Vanessa’s passion has helped her attract other mission-driven employees that truly care about Leva’s purpose.
“Our mission has absolutely attracted people who care about the subject matter, and really want to help women. We have a couple of men that work with us, but the majority of our employees are women. Some of them start out working with us on a contract basis, and they begin to fall more and more in love with our content and mission. They come up with so many different ideas, and they start to become much more integrated into the fold of the business.”
Cultivating close-knit communities is foundational to Leva’s mission, and Vanessa has internally brought that vision to life within her company as well.
“It’s awesome to see that there are so many other people out there that really care about helping other women and wanting to make a difference in the world. I feel like it really does draw the right people to you.”
As a CEO, Vanessa wants to make sure that her employees know they can count on her as a resource for help, guidance, and even if they need a place to stay.
“We had an employee move to Canada, which is five hours from our house. We have a place in upstate New York and I offered to let her stay there, since we weren’t there at the time. I want to be able to do that for my people. I want to be able to give them whatever they need.”
How Leva creates a women-friendly workplace through company culture
Vanessa’s experience as a working mother deeply influences her vision of fostering an inclusive and accepting workplace, where employees are encouraged to bring their true, authentic selves to work.
“I’m always looking for a place that has a really good culture. Everyone talks about cultures where you can bring your authentic self to work. I haven’t found that to be true pretty much anywhere, and I want that to be true where we are. I have very open, candid conversations with folks on my team.”
Vanessa’s top-down approach in providing transparency and communication helps create a culture where her employees feel comfortable being open and honest.
“They’re very open with telling me if they need to work different hours, or if they have personal circumstances they need to address. That’s not a problem for me. I don’t think it really should matter when you work, when you’re on the clock. As long as you’re getting your work done, as long as we’re communicating, that’s really what I want to encourage.
I want to foster a very positive environment where people feel good about coming to work. It doesn’t mean we don’t have high expectations. I think we all need to hold each other accountable to high expectations and I want them to do the same with me.”
Vanessa Jupe’s remote company culture tips
Leva is a fully remote startup, with a handful of employees spanning across a variety of time zones and countries. Their favorite forms of communication? Slack and Whatsapp.
“We are on Slack all the time, every single day. Sometimes we use Whatsapp because our people are everywhere. But Slack is our primary way of staying connected.”
Vanessa has found 1:1 meetings to be particularly effective when it comes to building human connection at work.
“I’ll speak with employees once a week, or once every other week. Sometimes they’re about what you’re doing, sometimes they’re about just your life. I’ll share what’s going on with me as well. Of course, we’re talking about a few things that have to get done with work.
But I think those moments of connecting – human-to-human – are really important. What I’ve found interesting working in a remote environment is that I tried to go and just set up staff meetings once a week and that’s been okay. But it’s really the 1:1s that are much more practical and effective. It makes the fiber of the team much stronger.”
Of course, forging connections at work through virtual means doesn’t necessarily replace the value of face-to-face time. For Vanessa, encouraging in-person meetups is a top priority for the future.
“We are trying to get folks together in person a little bit more. We haven’t done much of that because we’re all literally across the world. Our team is everywhere, but we have an event coming up in July where several of our folks are going to fly into Kansas City and attend a big conference. It’s a great opportunity to get all of us together.
Eventually, I’d love to do some really fun offsites where we can incorporate yoga classes and other cool events. I want to do in-person sessions where we’re all doing things together that strengthen our physical fitness and mental wellness. I’d love to create the experiences that we offer for our users, for our team.”
As Leva expands its operations, Vanessa aspires to contribute and invest in her employees for the long haul.
“If I had an unlimited budget, the very first thing I would do is pay everyone an outstanding salary. I hate those reports where you see how much CEOs make compared to the rest of the teams. The gap between those salaries should be much closer. I would love to be in a position one day where the people on my team are making more than they could make anywhere else.”
How JetBlue Airways shaped Vanessa’s approach to company culture
“The best company culture I’ve experienced by far is JetBlue Airways. I worked there many years ago in my mid-twenties. They were six years old at the time, so it was still startup-like. You knew right away that they thought about branding, and they were exactly who they said they were. They were JetBlue. It was a brand and you felt it every single day in everything you did.
I remember on my first day going into the office, my manager at the time was at my desk, ready to greet me when I got there. On my desk he had this really cool vintage, bowling ball-style bag, and inside was all of this JetBlue swag. It was just the coolest thing ever. It was simple, but also one of the best onboarding moments I had experienced.”
JetBlue stood out to Vanessa not only through their branding, but also in the ways they created watercooler moments at the office.
“I was a web developer at the time, so we installed Dreamweaver on the computer that I was working on. My boss at the time said, ‘So you’re putting it in code view, right? You’re not putting it in the design view, right?’ I said, ‘Yes, we’re doing this!’ It was just a hilarious moment. We were constantly having this very jovial, back-and-forth bantering every morning within the entire marketing department.”
JetBlue’s unique approach towards Snowmageddon, a February 2007 North American blizzard that disrupted several flights from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, exemplified the true strength behind JetBlue’s company culture.
“All of the planes were grounded. Everything was shut down – you couldn’t get off the plane. People were stuck on the tarmac for hours. It was terrible. Our leadership team sent out an email to all the crew members, which is what we were called, that asked if we could go to the airport because they needed our help.”
I had never been at a place where everyone pitched in and asked for our help. How can you not feel connected to a company that does that? We all loaded onto these buses and went to JFK. We handed out snacks to everyone that was stuck at the airport, and spent days trying to find people’s bags.
It was wild, but it was amazing. It was great to do something that matters when you’re all in it together. You can all go through a crazy situation together, but everyone’s supporting each other while supporting your customers. And there’s nothing more important than your customers, they’re the reason we’re here. JetBlue lived and breathed what they stood for, and we had a lot of fun while doing it.”
JetBlue’s leadership team took the time to engage in small talk with Vanessa, which shaped her positive experience at the company. It’s something that she emulates at Leva herself.
“Our CEO at the time would come around the building and just say hi to everyone. He knew everyone’s name. The next CEO was awesome as well, and he also knew everyone. I met him once as a junior, entry-level employee. He knew my husband’s name, and always asked how he and I were doing. Moments like that really matter, where they care about you as a person.”
What’s next for Leva?
Leva offers their product as a benefit companies can provide to support women in the workforce. Their current partners include companies like BenefitBump and Sleep Wise Consulting – and they’re just getting started.
If you’re interested in supporting the new moms on your team, you can learn more about adding Leva to your benefits package here.
And if you want to build a company culture that recognizes women in the workforce, try using Slack apps like Airspeed.
According to a BambooHR study of 1700 respondents, men and women have different reward and recognition experiences. 50% of men surveyed said they receive recognition frequently compared to 43% of women – and that gap is alarming.
With 79% of employees citing a lack of appreciation as a reason for leaving their jobs, forgetting to recognize the women on your team can influence them to leave their jobs – or even the workforce as a whole.