Time to re-frame the discussion on gender diversity

The Current State of Corporate Gender Equality – Global Trends and Figures, sponsored by the Swiss-based Müller-Möhl Foundation, challenges the way we talk about gender equity at work.

“Initially, employers focused merely on women and their childcare concerns, and devised policies that attempted to meet their needs,” says the report.

“Next, companies embraced more family-responsive environments, realising they were necessary to insure that employees (mostly women) would not be penalised for availing of these policies. The business case has thus always hinged on the relationship between supportive workplaces and effective organisations based on the underlying assumption that businesses exist to make profit and that unless gender equality is linked to profit, decision makers within organisations would not support it.

Released this month, The Current State of Corporate Gender Equality “challenges this assumption”.

The report looks at the need to “reframe the business case for gender diversity” and also the importance of getting employees involved in how to make gender diversity happen. There is also a call to move away from “face time” to output driven work and while this is not new, it is always worth repeating.

Changing the business case

The business case for greater gender diversity should be based on a “shared value perspective” to identify how gender diversity is “not just about fairness but it is also about shared benefits for individuals, families, companies and societies,” the report says.

The tangible benefits of greater gender include greater returns on capital investment but the report calls for a greater focus on why this happens. A Credit Suisse report looked at share price performance between companies with at least one woman on the board and those without any women on their boards. There was not much difference between the two types of companies in the good times but with the onset of the bear market from 2008 the share price of those companies with at least one woman on their board “really picked up”. The report calls for more research on the impact of gender diversity through different economic cycles.

The report also calls for a much closer look at the way gender diversity impacts on the intangibles too. One area is the impact on the creativity and innovation of a company. As knowledge workers are increasingly called on to focus on problem solving rather than just BAU, this is of particular significance. “Cognitive diversity” or a diversity of thinking in an organisation can result in “superior decision making”.

However, the report also warns that many women “have been trained and socialised into corporate environments” thus reducing their ability to “leverage their diverse perspectives”. The solution is to create environments where women are “accepted, valued and can take pride in the different perspective they bring to the table, or the different ways they operate in business and develop their careers and the careers of others – rather than assimilating the male cultural norms.

Get all employees involved

I also fully endorse the report’s call for both male and female employees to “co-design and implement successful gender equality initiatives”. Research shows that the performance of workers increases when they can show “sympathy and interest” in a company initiative.

“Yet today’s employees often remain the surprised recipients of new policies that they find ill-suited or redundant,” the report states. In one study quoted in the report, 60% of respondents said their employer had not sought their input on gender equality initiatives.

Current state of play

Drawing on figures from a McKinsey report, The Current State of Corporate Gender Equality shows that sectors “closer to final consumer demand” have a higher proportion of women on their boards where sectors closer to the bottom of the supply chain have a lower proportion of women on the board.

A comparison of 11 sectors by Credit Suisse found the top three sectors showing the strongest performance in terms of having at least one woman on their board in order were Healthcare followed by Financials and Utilities.

And over the last six years the fastest rates of change on gender diversity have come from Europe. We can change that here in Australia – just say the word.

If you would like a copy of the report, please email us at solutions@optimiss.com.