Why do women leave the workforce early?

The second glass ceiling

The British Standards Institution (‘BSI’) has published a report examining factors that cause women to leave the workforce early other than through choice. It describes the factors as ‘the second glass ceiling’. The report followed a survey of more than 5,000 women in the UK, USA, Australia, China and Japan.


Of the UK women surveyed, the report found that:

  • 21% mentioned the responsibility to care for parents or children.
  • 20% referred to health or well-being considerations for menopause as a barrier to continuing in work.
  • 54% would find it difficult to raise health and menopause-related issues with their employer and 60% would be uncomfortable raising these issues with a male manager.
  • 71% said formal policies to address personal health and well-being issues such as menopause, menstruation, difficult pregnancies or miscarriage would be helpful. However, only 4% were aware of such policies in their organisation.


The report stated that women leaving the workforce prematurely can reduce productivity, drain talent and reduce the number of experienced mentors for new staff.

Supporting them to stay longer would boost growth, encourage innovation and increase diversity.


Open dialogue

Ask women what they want and act on it. Identifying the reasons that women leave the workforce early can reveal solutions that reverse the trend and help more women to thrive. Ensure support is available and accessible and that women know what you offer.


Small adjustments can make a big impact. Where possible, providing flexibility in how, when and where people work can greatly lessen the stress on those who might otherwise choose to leave the workforce.

Culture of care

Taking a holistic approach can strengthen trust and engagement leading to a more resilient organization.

Share best practice

Businesses collaborating and sharing effective strategies can help accelerate progress.

Source: BSI: Lifting the second glass ceiling (July 2023).