In my last blog post, I discussed the under-representation of women in leadership roles and the factors that contribute to this trend. The following studies demonstrate what organizations lose when they lack gender diversity, in general as well as in leadership positions:
- A study at the MIT Sloan School of Management showed that teams with higher IQs did not perform better in solving visual puzzles and complex problems; however, those that had more women did perform better.
- Gallup found that gender-diverse business units have 19% higher average quarterly net profit than those dominated by one gender.
- Morgan Stanley showed that in 2016, high gender diversity companies delivered slightly better profits compared with low diversity peers. High gender diversity companies moderately outperformed low diversity companies for the previous five years as well.
- An analysis by Credit Suisse demonstrated that companies with a higher participation of women in decision-making roles generate higher returns on equity; and businesses where women account for the majority in top management show superior sales growth and high cash flow returns.
- A McKinsey report found that across 1000 companies, those in the top-quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.
Given the correlation between gender diversity and business performance, what can you and your organization do to increase the diversity within your company and within your leadership ranks?
Educate everyone about gender biases. I previously summarized the numerous studies that show the biases around women in leadership positions. And these biases are held by both men and women and may be deeply imbedded. Researchers found most women are not aware that they have been victims of gender discrimination even when it is objectively real and they can see that women are affected by it. So it is important to counter assumptions with evidence. And when we create awareness around the assumptions we hold, we give ourselves the ability to examine or release those assumptions and think differently.
Create women’s leadership development “safe spaces.” Based on their research, Robin Ely and her colleagues at the INSEAD Business School formulate that leadership development for women is “identity work.” This is consistent with other leadership approaches that focus on “authenticity.” It makes particular sense for women given that they may be told, explicitly or implicitly, they must emulate a certain style of leadership behavior (like a masculine style) to be successful rather than develop an individual style. Leadership development programs for women, whether for groups or for individuals, should offer opportunities for women to explore and develop self-identify and leadership purpose. These trusted spaces also allow women to openly reflect on and share common workplace and leadership challenges and experiences.
Enable networks and mentoring for women. It is logical that when there are fewer women in leadership positions, women may be shut out of informal, majority-male networks. This can prevent access to opportunities and sponsors that can elevate women to the next level. Senior women leaders also represent possibility and achievement to those they mentor. Such methods have been used to successfully increase the number of women in engineering. In Harvey Mudd’s class of 2014, 56% of students receiving engineering degrees were women, compared to a national average of 19%. This was attributed to a high percentage of female faculty and active mentoring.
From my own personal experiences of being a woman in a male-dominated field (engineering), a woman leader, and an executive coach, my personal passion is increasing the number of women in leadership positions. This two-part blog post is my small contribution to educating a wider audience and attempting to increase the number of women in leadership positions. By adopting some of the suggestions here, you too can help shift the trend. I hope you will.