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The importance of investing in professional development

In Blog, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by Rachel Murray

The first time I became a manager, I was promoted because I was good at my job. My boss was promoted, therefore I was able to move into his place based on my work performance. The second time I became a manager, our company was experiencing significant growth, so I was asked to build a team to support the influx of work. The third time I became a manager, I solved a problem early during my tenure with the company, and as the team grew, I was asked to manage people who were recently my colleagues.

At no point in time did it occur to my supervisors (or me, for that matter) that I would greatly benefit from meaningful professional development. In particular, professional development on how to effectively lead my team. I had access to the occasional conference or online course, but nothing particularly impactful. This experience was layered with the complexities of being a woman in a largely male-dominated space. There were numerous subtle messages constantly being relayed to me. The most notable unspoken expectation was that I had to walk a fine line between being strong and kind in order to appease stereotypical gender stereotypes of women-ness, while also communicating that I wasn’t a pushover. It was also made clear that I should be grateful for the manager role, as though my hard work and merit weren’t the reasons I was promoted. As I climbed the corporate ladder, I was subtly encouraged to play political games in order to maintain my position within the company. Though I was unintentionally set up to fail, the impact was very real. And while I was good at my job, I could have benefited from learning opportunities that were intentional about developing my skills as a leader and supporting growth. This would not only have supported my own professional growth, but would inherently have benefited the company as well.

In the end, I left the corporate world in my late 30s because I no longer found a place for myself in it. I didn’t see how I could lead in a way that felt authentic to who I am; in a way that didn’t require playing games. So I started my entrepreneurial journey.

The Great Resignation

Though this was my story, it’s something that we’re seeing more now than ever as the pandemic continues to challenge many of us to reconsider our values and reasons for getting out of bed in the morning. 

A record 4.3 million workers in America quit their jobs in August 2021 alone. While many were from the food and retail industry, the tech industry is also reeling. 72% of tech workers in the US are considering quitting their jobs in the next year. And what we’re seeing is that mid-career tech and healthcare workers are most likely to walk away from their job, with women at the forefront

Many people are leaving the workforce entirely to start their own businesses because they believe working for themselves will be a more valuable experience than working for someone else. Others are leaving for other companies that seem to be more aligned with their values – whether that’s social mission, generous benefits, flexible work environments, commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, or for a lot of cash. Many women have been forced to leave because of caregiving responsibilities, but two-thirds are looking to come back to the workforce under certain conditions – better work culture and environment are top of mind.

While there are a myriad of reasons why people are leaving, the bottom line for most is that the work people are doing simply isn’t worth the effort anymore. In addition to some of the issues highlighted above, today’s employees are fed up with: 

  • Toxic work environments 
  • Limited or confusing remote work options
  • Leadership and management focusing more on hiring than investing in existing staff
  • Questioning how much value the company places on employees
  • And all of this has added up to significant burnout
Professional development is more than just a retention tool

There are many ways to be proactive when it comes to addressing burnout, and thankfully companies are starting to act. One way to handle burnout is to invest in your people’s growth. By offering an opportunity for people to spend time focusing on their professional development, you’re showing that: 

  • You’re paying attention to their needs
  • You want to actively invest in their future, and 
  • You believe that they are a real value to the organization
  • You recognize that your employees’ time spent on education is not a true loss in productivity but will enhance their productivity over the long haul
How to invest

Work with your team to determine what a fair and equitable amount of professional development dollars should be. If you notice larger line items for swag than for professional development, take a pause. Swag is great, but education is better for retention (and the planet). If an employee comes to you with a proposal for professional development, hear them out, even if it’s a busy time with lots of deadlines and a crunched budget. If you know your company is poised for growth, take the long-term approach and invest in the future of your company and your employees. 

As you think about how to support and sustain a truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive workplace, consider making professional development for those who don’t normally receive it a top priority – your employees will thank you and your company will benefit!


To learn more about professional development opportunities for emerging women+ leaders, visit our Rise Up Program section. To learn more about professional development opportunities on diversity, equity, and inclusion, visit our Corporate DEI Training section.