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Despite the Recession, Many High Potential Employees Jump Ship

Retention found to be essential even during economic downturn

High potential employees aren’t afraid to strike out for greater opportunities despite the continuing recession, according to a study of how the best and brightest of high potential talent have weathered the global recession over the past 18 months. The report released by Catalyst, Opportunity or Setback? High Potential Women and Men During Economic Crisis, offers a surprising overview of the current workplace and recommends that even during international economic instability, employee retention must remain a foremost concern for businesses.

The report, part of a longitudinal study of MBA alumni who graduated between 1996 and 2007 from top business schools around the world, provides a myth-busting snapshot of how corporate management views these high potentials, and how women fare compared with men in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. According to the report, more than a third of these skilled women and men received workplace promotions, with Canadian high potentials receiving fewer promotions (23 percent) compared to European (41 percent), Asian (40 percent), and those in the United States (33 percent). This signified employers’ willingness to support this talent pool. Yet, a full 20 percent jumped ship, choosing greater opportunity in the face of the uncertain economy.

The study demonstrated that job loss due to downsizing or organizations closing did not substantially affect women more than men. In addition, women did not trade the workplace for home, with nine percent leaving the workforce voluntarily but with 10 percent returning. In fact, they matched men move for move in relocating both within and outside their countries, taking temporary international assignments, leaving for new business ventures, making lateral job moves, and job-hopping.

“With few exceptions, the downturn has been an equal opportunity crisis, affecting women and men similarly,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & Chief Executive Officer of Catalyst. “Top talent around the globe remain confident in their ability to obtain new positions. Businesses cannot afford to assume that the poor economy will keep these high potential women and men from actively seeking better opportunities.”

However, the report showed that women in leadership positions were disproportionately hit. A startling 19 percent of senior women lost their jobs versus just six percent of men. Promotions in Europe were also heavily weighted in favor of men, at 44 percent compared to only 26 percent of women.

Overall, this study demonstrated that high potential women and men are successfully working through the recession with continued choices in employment and prospects for growth. Talent managers who view the economy as an opportunity to scale down on retention efforts should seriously reconsider in light of these surprising findings.

American Express Company is the Exclusive Lead Project Sponsor of Opportunity or Setback? High Potential Women and Men During Economic Crisis. Barclays Capital is the Lead Sponsor, and Chevron Corporation, Credit Suisse Group, General Motors Corporation, Procter & Gamble Company, and Scotiabank are Partnering Sponsors. For more information on this and other Catalyst research, please visit our website at For media inquiries, please contact Susan Nierenberg, [email protected], 646-388-7744; Serena Fong, [email protected], 646-388-7757; or Jeff Barth, [email protected], 646-388-7725.

This research is part of The Promise of Future Leadership: A Research Program on Highly Talented Employees in the Pipeline, a longitudinal study on high potential talent. Between Fall 2007 and Spring 2008, Catalyst conducted an online survey of alumni who graduated between 1996 and 2007 from full-time MBA programs at 26 leading business schools in Asia, Canada, Europe, and the United States. In the spring of 2009, Catalyst invited alumni who, at the time of the initial survey were working full-time in a company or firm and who had expressed interest in participating in future studies, to participate in this survey on effects of the economy. Catalyst analyzed data on 873 respondents.

Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and more than 400 preeminent corporations as members, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women’s advancement with the Catalyst Award.