There are two ways of approaching gender balancing. The first is from a social and moral perspective – because it’s the right thing to do. In other words, women comprise half the population and about half the workforce; the majority are highly career oriented and truly want to achieve greater goals in their careers; and so companies consider it necessary to make an effort to involve more women in decision making.
This desire for fairness has been talked about and considered for decades – the only problem is that it hasn’t achieved any results at all. We still have a situation where, worldwide, men occupy 95% of CEO positions and 85% of Board positions. Clearly, treating gender balancing as something that should be done in fairness to women is not a successful approach and isn’t driven with any kind of real commitment.
The second approach is looking at the business case supporting gender balancing. In other words, not seeing this as a ‘women’s issue’. This has proved to be the only way to get companies to consider making these large shifts in behaviours, methods, and management structures, with all the corresponding cultural changes.
Here are just some of the most compelling arguments for gender balancing:
- Women are more academically qualified than men – in almost every country in the world. The gap between qualified women and men keeps growing. In the UK, it’s estimated that 75% of university graduates will be women by just 2015. Even in under-developed countries, women are now the largest talent pool. In the US, women also hold more Masters and PhD degrees than men. Talent is what every company is searching for, and women are now the largest talent pool in the world.
- The power of the purse! Women make 70% of consumer spending decisions world-wide and this number is as high as 85% n the US. Women are responsible for over 90% of food, clothing, pharmaceutical and holiday purchases and even buy over 60% of cars and computers. Women’s wealth is set to increase by trillions every year, to the point where 60% of the world’s independent wealth is expected to be in the hands of women by 2025. Women are the major market for almost every product and service in almost every country of the globe.
- Most importantly, the presence of only one woman on a board of directors has the effect of improving the bottom line by on average 28% versus all-male boards. There are now countless studies showing the increased profitability according to a variety of business measures when there are women in senior management. Interestingly, the figures look even better when the number of women is increased – with a critical mass of 30% representation proving optimum.
- From a governance, communication and teamwork perspective, the presence of women at all levels of management has proved extremely advantageous.
It is astonishing, given this compelling business imperative, that companies are still slow to make changes to the gender balance of their management teams. It’s often not through lack of will, though. Many companies are fully aware that achieving gender balance first will give them a powerful edge over their competitors, but they’re struggling to make the cultural changes required. This is where a knowledge of the business case is so essential and is the second most important step, after getting the full commitment of the CEO.
Based on the few examples above, companies need to do a proper audit both internally and externally of gender perception, and to add their own information and statistics to draw up a business case that is tailored to their business and which is industry and sector specific. Once they have this business case showing the merits of gender balancing, they need to ensure that everyone in the organisation is fully aware of this and understands why balancing is essential based on a business rationale.
If this full training and briefing of the business case doesn’t happen and isn’t seen as a 21st Century business imperative (which is being driven on profitability grounds rather than as a social kindness), it is unlikely that a business will push through the cultural difficulties that are a part of making this change. It will be too easy to revert to business as usual. However, if everyone understands the importance and the vision behind gender balancing, it will be much easier to keep making the tough calls when they are required.
After that, knowing how to change the culture in the organisation and how to become gender bilingual are steps 3 and 4, so these articles will follow.