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As soon as someone utters the words “gender diversity,” it can be easy for a time-pressed leader to tune out. Or, for that matter, an Inc.com reader. Please don’t tune out just yet.
While most reasonable people agree that gender diversity initiatives are a plus, they can often feel like a nice-to-have compared to board demands, investment decisions, and personnel management. And, there is real cause for concern that the cost of these programs will outweigh the benefits.
Yet gender diversity programs are important specifically because they more diverse companies are proven to perform better financially. Morgan Stanley research recently found that companies that are more gender diverse deliver better financial performance than those that are less diverse.
According to Eva Zlotnicka, a sustainability analyst at Morgan Stanley: “We believe gender diversity across the corporate workforce can impact company valuation through increased employee productivity, greater innovation, more customers, higher talent retention, and better risk management.”
Several companies have embraced this thesis wholeheartedly, and are leading the way with elaborate programs. Accenture has announced a target of 50 percent gender diversity by 2025, and sponsors an annual company-wide International Women’s Day celebration. Microsoft has incorporated team diversity as a component of executive bonuses. Dell sponsors an idea competition through its employee resource group. PwC has invested in leadership skills development programs for high-potential women.
While some of these initiatives may seem costly, successful diversity programs for women don’t need to be grandiose.
Many other companies take a more conventional path to driving gender diversity at their company–including instituting Women’s Employee Resource Groups. While at times these groups can be viewed as wasteful or ineffective, when executed well, Women’s Networks drive motivation, performance and engagement.
Why are women’s initiatives worth the time and money? Success in gender diversity is not just about how many women are within your walls; it’s about making sure they are adequately represented and engaged. As a report from Bay Area tech leader Salesforce found, “Employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five-times (4.6X) more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.”
Whether your company is taking its first baby steps toward gender diversity programming or you are looking to take bold strokes, here’s why your investment in gender diversity programs will pay dividends:
1. Better Perspective for Changing Times
According to a recent report from PwC titled The PwC Diversity Journey, “we live in an era in which five global megatrends–urbanisation, shifting economic power, demographic changes, resource scarcity & climate change, and technological advances – are organically reshaping societies and businesses worldwide.”
PwC asserts that companies with more diverse talent bases are much better equipped to manage these dramatic shifts we face. As the company plans its talent strategy the future, it has prioritized diversity across all work teams.
Further, PwC reminds us that there’s no quick fix to diversity. Efforts to sustain a diverse workforce must be ongoing and underscore all other work activities.
2. More Diverse Skills Bring Better Decision Making
According to Sallie Krawcheck, chair of Ellevest, women generally bring different character traits and skills to the table. These essential skills–such as greater sensitivity to risk, and greater propensity to collaborate–result in a different approach to decision-making, which will serve companies well.
One reason that diverse teams perform better may have to do with more reliance on the facts: a study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that diverse teams “raised more facts…and made fewer factual errors.”
Salesforce has taken this concept to heart, and its CEO Marc Benioff has issued a mandate that all meetings must contain 30-50 percent women.
3. Diversity Fuels Innovation
Karen Quintos, chief customer officer at Dell, told me that “diverse teams drive more innovation, which in turn energizes employee engagement and boost corporate performance. We believe our differences are a strength. Inclusive leadership is a competitive advantage.”
Along that line of thinking, each year Dell’s Employee Resource Group holds an annual GameChanger competition where participants are asked to dream up new ideas that are reviewed and pitched to Dell’s executive leadership team. The fundamental idea behind this competition is that diverse knowledge and backgrounds and a fresh perspective will lead to better ideas.
Smaller companies can implement similar initiatives by inviting ideas from all corners of the organization, or handing special projects over to high-potential women to make sure that their concepts can be a part of the conversation.
In other words, if you want to be prepared for the business challenges that lie ahead, you better be thinking about how many women are within your walls–and what investments you’re making to engage them.