by Sue Weston

Does gender matter?

Jun 22, 2017
CareersIT Leadership

Here's a look at the underlying causes for disparity in the number of women leaders, what needs to change, and the financial benefits of changing.

women puzzle piece
Credit: Thinkstock

Every March the media focus is on how men outperform women as part of National Women’s History Month, but these issues fade from the forefront. So what? Do women have the intelligence and opportunities to advance in business and why should corporations care?

Women are equally intelligent…

…attain more university degrees, and with higher academic performance. (ALBA) Women have a higher degree of emotional intelligence and empathy, which may be a biological adaptation similar to the flight-or-fight response, dubbed the tend-or-befriend response. As a result, women tend to be less aggressive, they have a harder time asking for what they want and may be more concerned about being liked. Studies found that women candidates are more likely to be chosen for risky roles. (EY) Teams including women are more successful at logical analysis, coordination, planning and problem solving. The ability to advance in business appears similar for both genders.

Diversity improves corporate profitability

A 2014 study found that moving from a single-gender to blended workplace increases productivity by 41%. (MIT) In 2016 the Peterson Institute identified a significant under-representation of women on corporate boards and leadership positions. They projected that changing board composition to include 30% female representation could add up to six percentage points to a company’s net margin. [This survey included 21,980 firms over 91 countries. Half those surveyed had no female top executives.] (PIIE) There is financial benefit for gender balance.

But hiring a diverse workforce is not enough

Companies need to maintain their focus on the quality and collaboration. Management needs to create an environment that ignites inclusion and improvement. The corporate culture must encourage collaboration, open expression and reflexive listening. Do women create this inclusive culture or simply require it to succeed?

Surprisingly, men and women disagree on the reason for the gender gap

Women say culture and bias are the biggest barriers to their advancement. While 47% of men attribute the gender gap to a shortage of female candidates (only 7% of women agree). Bias affects both genders; it influences hiring decisions, promotions, performance evaluations and advancement. Because it is largely unconscious, bias is difficult to control. A study was conducted in which orchestra auditions were held using curtain to separate the performer from the evaluator. As a result of the barrier, women qualifying increased to 50%, and women selected as musicians increased by 30%. (Harvard) This validation is encouraging, even though it is not practical to add a blind component into the other selection processes. We have the ability to address the symptoms. Additional work is needed to eliminate the underlying causes.

Gender parity is 117 years away…

…unless we take action. (EY) Organizations championing research and advocacy for gender equity are increasing in number, and visibility. Programs encompass the full spectrum including girls, educators and industry leaders. Some organizations provide mentors, sponsors and role models, others offer education, and create programs to promote and retain internal talent.

Is it working?

Only time will tell. It is essential to select a few key metrics that show directional movement, and consistently measure them. To quote Peter Drucker, “What gets measured gets managed.” Setting visible and measurable targets changes the rules of engagement and raises consciousness. It is equally important to uncover and address barriers in a prudent and consistent manner, and to create a pipeline to develop future leaders. Creating a level playing field requires setting the bar, celebrating successes and uniting the various grassroots organizations and corporate giants behind a single purpose.

Why me?

This is my story, gathered over a 30-year career. I am dedicating this chapter of my life to advocacy and education leading to the eradication of gender gaps in technology. I graduated from Columbia Engineering in 1980, one of an elite handful of women, among the best and the brightest. My work in the corporate world was focused on creating an inclusive workplace that produced results. These experiences prepared me to become a thought leader. Organizations are beginning to monetize gender diversity, and focus on the under-representation of women in leadership. Now is the time to champion for change!