Untersuchungen am Mikroskop im Labor, 1952, Deutsche Fotothek (Source: Wikimedia)
Ideas for Leaders #012

Building Trust to Retain Female Employees

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Key Concept

There is a key issue that organizations must tackle in order to retain female employees: trust. Evidence shows that women are more sensitive to and more aware of - both trust and distrust. In order to retain female talent, leaders must build trust between themselves and their employees, and there are specific behaviours and strategies that can help them do that.

Idea Summary

Research in the Center for Creative Leadership’s World Leadership Study found that overall, women are less trusting of their bosses than men are - and of their co-workers as well. This distrust is specific to the workplace though; with the study finding that women remain more trusting of people in general and in other parts of their life.

Some of the reasons for this distrust are as follows:

  • The recent recession may have created a feeling of vulnerability for those uninterested/unable to work 80+ hours a week;
  • Women tend to be more sensitive and responsive to social cues, including threat signals
  • Women may feel they must do more than men to achieve as much, and that rewards are seldom distributed equitably.

Building trust should be a top priority for managers for the following reasons:

  • When trust is high, retention is likely to be high, saving your organization both time and money in the long run.
  • In terms of female employees in particular, building trust may be one of the key strategies organizations can use to keep them, as the relationship between trust and intentions to stay are different for men and women.

Business Application

It is, of course, not a given that anyone will stay with an organization in the long-term, but building trust is one strategy that can be used to increase retention. This strategy might be especially effective, this Idea suggests, with females. Trust is earned slowly though, and destroyed quickly. Managers must be aware of this fact and be careful not to resort to reducing resources in response to the recession in a way that does not seem fair to women in particular, either because the process wasn’t equitable or because the resulting distribution of resources (or loss of resources) wasn’t equitable.

Specific leadership behaviours that improve trust are:

  • Competence: employees like to work for/with people who are skilled and knowledgeable. Demonstrating competence builds trust.
  • Caring: show your employees that they matter to you. For example, get to know their goals and interests.
  • Consistency: do what you say you are going to do. People trust those they can rely on, and breaking promises will break trust.
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Idea conceived

  • 2010

Idea posted

  • February 2013

DOI number



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