The Slow Burn: Should Quiet Quitting for Women Really Be Quiet?

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by Dr. Denise L. Caleb & Dr. Eulanda A. Sanders 

How you define and describe “quiet quitting,” determines whether women should quit quietly. The imbalance of work and life is the ignition starter for so many women. This calls into question whether women should be quiet. We start this summer series with the: (a) foundational concerns facing women, (b) causes, and (c) with a set of potential solutions or preventative measures.  

Let us start with this question: Is “quiet quitting” really quiet due to the number of women who have left the workforce during the pandemic? Reports indicate that over 300,000 women did not quietly quit since the pandemic. The numbers appear to be accurate given the number of women who are in the process of returning over the past year. We are not sure quitting is so quiet from a woman’s perspective. 

The term “quiet quitting” has many definitions. For some it is those who have retired, meaning they are disengaged. For others, it means they have decided the job or the culture is not working for them, so they quietly exit. A myriad of triggers cause misalignment, resulting in women becoming disengaged, quietly resigning their position, or leaving without proper notice. The impact of “quiet quitting” is significant, as we know employees who become actively disengaged lead to other financial impacts for the organization.


Go from Blame Game to Active Approach 

We all had time during the pandemic to re-evaluate the organizations in which we work, along with the work we want to do. Due to the imbalance of work, we have seen all workers, not just women, quitting without notification. It used to be common protocol, from an HR perspective, to provide a two-week notice. However, since the height of the pandemic, employees are not extending that level of courtesy.  

We suggest this is partly due to the burnout employees — especially women — have experienced, such as too many hats to wear and too many unrealistic expectations. So, the question is: Who is at fault for igniting the burn? We suggest that fault should not be the focus, but rather focus on a desire to better support women and prevent burnout. This focus will prevent: (a) women from quietly quitting or (b) a repeat of the loud exit we saw during the onset of the pandemic.  

Burnout is overwhelming women and in turn spills over to their households, families, organizations, and communities who then experience the side effects. This is why we feel compelled to lean in and prevent the burn. Keep in mind, quiet quitting looks a bit different for men than it does for women. We would argue that the whole notion of quiet quitting does have some gender nuances to it. Note, in this blog we are not addressing the impact of intersectionality on burnout; but we recognize how everyone’s burnout is impacted by their intersects. 

The notion of burnout must recognize why women are tired and making the decision to step away from senior roles, reinvite themselves along a new career path, retire early, and at a faster rate become entrepreneurs.” 

Early on in our careers, we both had the opportunity to read the book Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus by Dr. John Gray. It helped us understand gender nuances and the perspectives of how men and women approach life and relationships differently. Fast forward to the burdens of work-life balance that disproportionately impacted women during the pandemic and still today. Let us also consider what we have learned since reading this book, allowing us to understand how gender is further understood by separately defining sex, gender, and sexual orientation. A completely different blog is needed to tackle the subject, along with intersectionality, but it is important to know the complicities of the conversation. The notion of burnout must recognize why women are tired and making the decision to step away from senior roles, reinvite themselves along a new career path, retire early, and at a faster rate become entrepreneurs.  

Let us spotlight the executive-level woman  

For the purposes of this conversation, we define executive as anywhere from the senior director and vice president to the C-suite level. Many of these women are in executive rooms with a lack of representation of others who look like them and are experiencing the work environment in a similar fashion. To “cut to the chase” we still have too few women in the executive ranks. Being the only woman can be daunting and lead to burnout. This is especially true when there is a lack of understanding of the isolation experienced and the support needed to prevent burnout.  

Support can come from peers, mentors, coaches, and sponsors; and should be standard protocol of the direct supervisors for executive women. The support for the CEO could come from the Board, as Simone D. Ross, CEO of the CWCC, has expressed this was the impetus to create summer office hours and elevate the support of her staff. She had the support of her board chair to think differently. We need more organizations talking about burnout, taking steps to prevent it, and piloting solutions.  

How did we beat the burnout? 

During our three-part series, we will highlight not just the problem of burnout, its triggers, and needed support for executive women, but share personalized experiences. We will discuss how we beat the burnout! During part one, we started with understanding that women are quietly quitting, and they are doing it for different reasons. 

The women we have interacted with over the past several months are “quietly quitting” because (a) they want more representation in the workplace, (b) they want and need to see more diversity at the executive level, and (c) they are exhausted from being the “only.” These women want to be on teams, and particularly executive teams, with other women. They want a variety of individuals in their teams from different walks of life, and with varied lived experiences.  

Our workplace should reflect us 

Women want to see that holistic view of representation from not only a gender perspective, but they want representation in the areas of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and social economic perspectives. The list expands as people in general want to see diverse representation in leadership. For women, having ownership in the creation of the executive experience is vital — deciding what work-life balance or integration is for them should be part of their story. All people should be able to define what work looks like for them, their family, and the communities they serve.  

The next time you hear the term “quietly quitting” know it comes with several meanings and the desire to engage, re-engage, or quietly quit and has complexities and competing factors. There is a slow burn happening to women and we must address it. We encourage women to not go quietly. However, make sure you are not only advocating your needs within the work environment, but the needs of others. 

What’s next? 

Let us make sure we are creating inclusive environments for people to feel they belong and have the tools and support needed, so women do not have to “quietly quit,” “loudly quit,” or quit at all. During the next part of our series, we will dig deep into the “third-degree burn” women have acquired in the post-pandemic era on a personalized level. Stay tuned for Part 2, The Third-Degree Burn: The Experience of Women in The Post Pandemic Era by authors Andrea Grant and Dr. Denise Caleb. 


Dr. Denise Caleb

Dr. Denise Caleb, M.Ed., CME, SHRM-CP, PHR, is the First Vice President and Director of the Human Capital Consulting Practice, where she leads the Human Resources (HR), Organizational Development (OD), Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Strategy, and Creative Service lines of business.

As one of the leading experts in the country on DEIB, holding a CHRO position twice, spending more than 25 years in human resources, business development, and executive leadership roles, and a military spouse of 27 years, Dr. Caleb is focused on innovating and leading the Human Capital strategies and expanding the service lines to enhance FutureSense’s DEIB capabilities.

Dr. Eulanda Sanders

Dr. Eulanda Sanders is currently the Chief Strategist of Innovation & Entrepreneurship for the College of Human Sciences at Iowa State University (ISU). She also serves as the Donna R. Danielson Professor of Textiles and Clothing in Apparel, Merchandising and Design. Dr. Sanders has taught over 300 classes in fashion, textile design, women’s studies, and event management at the university level for 33 years. 


Gray, J. (2009). Men are from Mars, women are from Venus: The classic guide to understanding the opposite sex. Zondervan. 

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