Winning the War for the Best Female Talent

By Christie Hunter Arscott, Lauren Noël & Douglas Ready

The International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR) identifies five key themes that emerging women leaders value which companies should focus on to attract, advance, and retain aspiring women leaders.


Maggie Georgieva is a deeply talented product manager at HubSpot, a high growth inbound marketing firm headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Georgieva joined HubSpot out of university and months later set the Guinness Record for the world’s largest marketing webinar. Georgieva is a voracious learner and she strives to learn something new every day. Her eyes light up when she talks about how much she’s learning at HubSpot. “Learning is the most important thing for me. Women in my age group want to be constantly challenged,” she explains.

With millennials projected to account for 75% of the workforce by 20251 and women accounting for approximately 50% of that total,2 executives are increasingly focused on cracking the code of how to attract, advance, and retain early career women like Georgieva. Furthermore, reports3 show that many people have four jobs by the age of 32 and recently published data4 highlights that women job hop more than men.

Reports show that many people have four jobs by the age of 32 and recently published data highlights that women job hop more than men.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that our research and conversations with executives reveal that leaders are grappling with how to best retain women 5-10 years out of university. When we asked executives in the ICEDR consortium at 40 leading companies around the globe “What is one of your most pressing talent challenges?”, the leaders were aligned in their response: Retaining women around the age of thirty.

What do early career women want from their employers? What factors would make them stay? Our global study5 identified five themes, which represent what aspiring women leaders want from their companies: “Know Me,” “Challenge Me,” “Connect Me,” “Inspire Me,” and “Unleash Me.” (see figure 1 below)[ms-protect-content id=”9932″]





Attracting, Engaging, and Retaining Early Career Women at HubSpot

So what does this look like in practice? Our research revealed a wide array of workplace practices aligned with the five pillars of our framework at HubSpot. With 85% of their workforce under the age of 34, HubSpot appears to have cracked the code on how to attract and retain emerging women leaders.


“Know me”: Invest the time to understand me as a person, including my passions, interests, desires, and needs both in and out of work.

Part of the secret to HubSpot’s success can be attributed to the fact that leaders invest the time to understand employees as people, including their passions, interests, desires, and needs, both in and out of work.

Rather than designing rigid workplace and leave policies, leaders at HubSpot seek to understand what is going on in employees’ lives and what employees’ priorities are. “At HubSpot the idea is to optimise work around your life, not the other way around,” explains Katie Burke, Vice President of Culture & Experience. Work is not constrained by location and hours. Rather, work can be done whenever and wherever. This allows individual employees and their teams to craft customised working schedules and environments in order to produce their best work and accommodate their other priorities. The company’s flexible hours also enable employees to pursue their individual passions and interests, which is particularly important to early career women. “We have lots of rowers and tri-athletes at HubSpot so they have the flexibility to pursue their athletic passions in the morning and then start work,” says Burke.

Rather than designing rigid workplace and leave policies, leaders at HubSpot seek to understand what is going on in employees’ lives and what employees’ priorities are.

Flexibility is offered to everyone at the company, but moms certainly benefit as well. Case in point is Pam Vaughan, a mom of two young children, who works from home three days a week and comes into the office twice a week. She also offers to talk to moms thinking about working at the company. “We were recruiting someone to the marketing team who is a mom. She had concerns because she had heard the work environment at HubSpot was intense. I talked to her and put aside her worries,” explains Vaughan.


“Challenge me”: I need to grow and continue my learning through new challenges and see multiple paths to advancement.

At HubSpot, there is no ‘one size fits all’ career path. There are multiple ways to progress, take on new challenges, and acquire new skills. This individualised approach to career paths is important to retaining emerging women leaders. In contrast to traditional ‘up or out’ corporate cultures, career paths at HubSpot are individualised depending on employee interests, life stage, and development goals. Executives push people out of their comfort zone and encourage employees to try out different teams and even switch what they are doing every six months.

HubSpot’s leaders encourage lateral movement, which is vital to retaining early career stars who often expect rapid advancement. One young woman expressed how she highly values this approach: “Lateral movement is very much like in college when you just take another class because you haven’t been exposed to a topic.” She has had the opportunity to move laterally at HubSpot to work on everything from email marketing to page optimisation to PR to eBook creation, all within a short period of time.

Furthermore, offering an interesting lateral career move is important to retaining aspiring women leaders who may not want to take on a promotion at the current time. One woman we interviewed stated: “My career is a three lane highway. There are times when I want to be in the slow lane, times when I want to go in the middle lane, and times when I want to go in the fast lane.”


“Connect me”: I want to interact, collaborate, and build relationships with a dynamic network of peers, leaders, mentors, coaches, and sponsors.

HubSpot’s leaders are deeply commitment to creating a sense of community. HubSpot executives have a ‘no-door’ policy – often sitting at ‘nomad’ tables within an open floor plan – making them accessible to people across the organisation. Leaders also frequently have informal one-on-one lunches with employees to get to know them. In addition to connecting with senior leaders, HubSpot employees meet new people outside of their teams through a semi-random seat shuffle every three months and connect with leaders outside of the organisation through ‘HubTalks’, small informal talks given by CEOs and leading executives from a wide range of industries.

Offering an interesting lateral career move is important to retaining aspiring women leaders who may not want to take on a promotion at the current time.

This sense of community is deeply important to early career women as it provides support during times of transition, a sounding board for navigating organisational politics, and camaraderie that adds motivation to produce their best work. As HubSpot’s Meghan Keaney Anderson explains, “At HubSpot, my peers are so driven and smart. For me, that’s motivating because they are some of my best friends but they’re also upping the level for me. Having that peer group of high achieving women is even more powerful than having people above me pave the way for me.”


“Inspire me”: I want purpose from my workplace from which I derive a sense of meaning.

HubSpot’s widely viewed Culture Code with over 2 million views states that people now value purpose over a pension. While most people care deeply about working for companies with a deep sense of purpose, this is particularly important for people entering the workforce. HubSpot’s commitment to purpose has served the company well. What’s unique about HubSpot is the company’s dual focus on purpose and achieving results. The culture code states: “We commit maniacally to both our mission and metrics” and that “this dual personality of mission and metrics is uncommon and is partly what makes (HubSpot) different.” The Culture Code goes on to say that “life is short and work should be fulfilling and fun.”

HubSpot’s dual focus on purpose and achieving results inspires early career women. The emerging women leaders we interviewed at the company proclaimed how passionate they are about the changing landscape of marketing and new media technologies and how this drives them to do great work.


“Unleash me”: I want to lead initiatives, have my voice heard, experiment, and use my entrepreneurial flair.

HubSpot’s Culture Code states: “We give ourselves the autonomy to be awesome.” Georgieva explains why she values this independence, “One of the reasons why I joined HubSpot was the company’s flat culture. It is so liberating.” As one early career woman explained, “Senior leaders want you to take risks. I love that HubSpot lets you take a project and run with it and own it!”

HubSpot gives junior talent lots of responsibility early on and rewards accordingly. As Burke explains, “We reward based on ingenuity and results, not time.” One example of this is Alison Elworthy, a young woman who has already risen to HubSpot’s Management Team as VP of Operations and was promoted to the role while expecting her first child.


Five Lessons from HubSpot

1. Seek to understand the person behind the work. Give employees the autonomy to customise their schedules so they have the freedom and motivation to pursue their passions and produce their best work.

2. Challenge early career women through lateral moves and new projects and reward them accordingly for their results.

3. Connect emerging female leaders to an engaging and dynamic community of peers, senior executives, and thought leaders within and outside the company, creating a university-like experience.

4. Inspire high achieving women by widely communicating your mission and the metrics that are vital to your company’s success.

5. Unleash high potential talent by creating a safe space for employees to take risks and for individual contributors to lead projects early on in their careers.

HubSpot’s business is growing by leaps and bounds: the company experienced a 57% growth in revenues in 2015. And, in the process, the company is growing women leaders and exceptional talent across genders and generations. By knowing what employees want, letting them take on exciting new challenges, fostering camaraderie, inspiring them with purpose, and unleashing them to lead, innovative companies like HubSpot provide a tried and tested blueprint of cultural principles and practices leaders can use to retain early career women within their own organisations.

About the Authors

arscott-webChristie Hunter Arscott is an expert on gender and generational strategies. She is a Rhodes Scholar, World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and Principal of Quest, ICEDR’s global leadership institute for early career women. She can be reached at

noel-webLauren Noël is the Managing Director of Quest, ICEDR’s global leadership institute for early career women. She holds an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Her work focuses on engaging, advancing, and inspiring women in the first decade of their careers. She can be reached at

ready-webDouglas A. Ready is Senior Lecturer in Organizational Effectiveness at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Founder and CEO of ICEDR (The International Consortium for Executive Development Research). Professor Ready is considered one of the world’s leading authorities on strategic talent management and executive development. He is a repeat member of Thinkers 50.


1. “Why you can’t ignore millennials,” Forbes, Dan Schwabel, September 4, 2013.
2. “Statistical overview of women in the workplace,” Catalyst, April 6, 2016.
3. “The new normal: 4 job changes by the time you’re 32,” CNN Money, Heather Long, April 12, 2016.
4. “The new normal: 4 job changes by the time you’re 32,” CNN Money, Heather Long, April 12, 2016.
5. “What Executives Need to Know about Millennial Women,” ICEDR Special Report, Lauren Noel and Christie Hunter Arscott, 2015.



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