Gender Equality Is Smart Business By John McDonnell

Business, US, World

Diversity of thinking makes for better teams. That’s now an established fact, in addition to being common sense. Why? Because diverse teams by definition mean more diverse ways of thinking, producing more options for decision makers to consider.

Having more varied team members to choose from increases a team leader’s chances of assembling the best team as a whole, balancing, for example, approaches that are analytical, experimental, practical or relational.

With the value of diverse thinking in mind, consider an obvious but big question: How does the fact that you are a man or a woman influence your life? In almost every way, right? Yet in my 30-plus years of working in over 140 countries in the global spirits industry, and in my service on corporate and educational boards, I’ve typically seen a lack of proportionate female representation on boards.

Women continue to outnumber men as a percentage of the total nation at 50.8%. They are reported to earn almost 60% of undergraduate degrees in the country and 60% of all master’s degrees. And yet, although American women hold almost 52% of all professional-level jobs, they are lagging substantially behind men in terms of their representation in leadership positions.

Women are 44% of the overall S&P labor force and 36% of first-or mid-level officials and managers in those companies, but hold only 25% of executive- and senior-level official and manager positions. They hold only 20% of board seats and comprise only 6% of CEOs.

Set aside morality and consider simply women’s importance in the marketplace. To me, it’s a no-brainer: Women should be fully represented on any team you can think of. And yet — use Google and take a look — we are far from the goal of representing American values of equality and fairness.

Check the Top 10 Fortune 500 companies, for example. Only one female CEO.

And check the boards on these giant companies. Only three of ExxonMobil’s 10 board members are women, three of UnitedHealth Group’s 10, three of General Electric’s 11 and so on. In this context, the number three can feel more like token representation versus a genuine commitment to gender equality in the thinking that guides a company’s future.

Who among us hasn’t experienced or at least observed sexism? Certainly, I’ve encountered outright gender bias in my service on academic and nonprofit boards, not just corporate. I was on the board of a university during its search for a new president, a search that was blatantly hijacked by its male chairman in a power grab. I ended up resigning in protest, not just at the unfairness but at the stupidity of the situation. But I was proud of the three women who stood up and spoke out, unwilling to be silent victims.

Beyond doubt, the world is changing. Fortunately, we’re beginning to see more truly gender-diverse boards and businesses across America, but there’s a long way to go. The nation’s politics are ahead of its businesses.

Women transformed the political landscape in the U.S. midterm elections last November. A record 36 new women won House seats, resulting in at least 102 women in the House in 2019 — the largest number in history. But the reality is, they’re still only 23% of the Senate. Nevada made history as the first state with a majority female legislature.

But as we look back on 2018, a poll published in December found that only a third of Americans were pleased with the state of gender equality in the country. Almost half of the women surveyed considered the progress made toward gender equality to be “minor.” Another 14% stated that 2018 brought no “significant” change for gender equality at all.

This I know for sure from observations and experience across my career: When I’ve been part of organizations that included gender diversity and female voices at all levels of decision making, the results were generally better, and the process of achieving them tended to be more thoughtful and just plain smarter.

Can there be any other rational conclusion? If you’re part of organizations that are not getting the full advantage of female knowledge, perspective and experience, it’s past time to help them wake up. Here a few ways you can make a difference.

Examine your organization for gender pay gaps, and fix them.

Stop asking candidates what they’ve previously been paid as a factor in setting compensation. Instead, establish clear pay brackets for any position. Then apply them regardless of gender, race or any other discriminatory factors.

Implement mentorship programs.

Leverage the women in your organization who can be positive role models for others, not just to help aspiring women leaders of the future, but also to help men develop unbiased leadership.

Remove the opportunity for bias.

As suggested by the Women Like Us Foundation, one way to remove any potential bias (gender, ethnic, etc.) is to have HR managers remove names from job applications being considered. This can encourage a focus on relevant experience alone.

Gender equality is smart business. End of story!

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