Businesses today are seeking the “magic formula” that will help them drive an innovative culture and set themselves apart from their competitors. But instead of coming up with anything new, far too many companies just dust off and repurpose old formulas, when a simple solution is right under their noses.
As the CEO of AESC, a global association representing the executive search and leadership consulting profession, I spend a lot of time thinking about leadership and its impact on the world around us. In my view, the single-greatest lever to driving innovation is building a diverse leadership team. People bring different experiences and perspectives to the workplace. When you have a team that is truly diverse in gender, geography, experience, and age, they will be far more capable of coming up with outside-the-box solutions that drive real change. This seems like an obvious solution, but the reality is that most companies come up short in executing this “ideal.”
Over the years, I’ve seen myriad reasons why companies believe securing top talent and diverse talent are two mutually exclusive goals. I could go on about all of the reasons that is completely false, but in this article, I want to focus on how easy it is to improve one aspect of leadership diversity: gender equality.
There is a shortage of top talent around the world and yet half the population – women – are under-employed. Women only represent 39 percent of world employment, and only hold 27 percent of managerial positions in the world.1 This is one reason why the United Nations made gender equality #5 on its list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030:
Goal 1: No Poverty
Goal 2: Zero Hunger
Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being
Goal 4: Quality Education
Goal 5: Gender Equality
These goals were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity.2 The idea is for every country to focus on making improvements, taking whatever actions are deemed necessary for progress.
While you may feel as though you can’t personally make a difference to impact the basic human rights issues that women face around the world, as a leader, you can certainly make a difference at your organization by committing to gender equality in the c-suite and the board room.
It’s 2019 and it is past time for change.
As a member of the Committee of 200 (C200) – the preeminent global organization for women business leaders – I know hundreds of talented women executives. These women are engineers, scientists, MBAs, CPAs, lawyers and entrepreneurs who work in every field imaginable. Along the same lines, there are even more talented women who are ready to be promoted to the executive level or secure their first board position. When organizations are truly committed to diverse leadership and believe that diversity drives innovation and business success, there is simply not a shortage of highly qualified women candidates for senior roles.
That said, after many years of helping organizations around the world fill executive positions, I’ve seen that some tend to be more successful than others when it comes to attracting and retaining the female talent they are seeking. This doesn’t happen by chance or luck; leaders at these organizations take a step back and truly examine their culture and value proposition to consider what might need to change to better support gender equality.
Here are a few things to consider when examining your own culture:
Is your company inclusive? Employing diverse people is not enough. Individuals must also feel respected by and connected to one another. Women must feel empowered to contribute, whether in informal conversations or sharing opposing viewpoints in meetings. This kind of environment is required to successfully drive innovation.
Is unconscious bias damaging your ability to select the right leaders? Unconscious (or implicit) biases are learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply engrained, universal, and able to influence behavior. Everyone has unconscious biases! The important thing is to be aware of these biases and develop mechanisms to ensure that these biases aren’t barriers to selecting the right leaders. For example, numerous studies have shown that male candidates are often given the benefit of the doubt that they will be able to grow into positions, whereas female candidates are seen as unproven, and therefore “risky” hires. When you are made aware of how these biases affect hiring decisions, you can do a gut check before making important decisions.
Is your workplace flexible? Employees and employers should be able to work together to make changes to when, where, and how work gets done to better meet individual and business needs. (e.g., is it OK for an employee to adjust her hours so she can leave work early twice a week to attend her daughter’s high school basketball games? What about flex time for new mothers who are re-entering the company after maternity leave?) Organizations that get these answers right develop a serious edge on their competition when it comes to attracting and retaining the top talent that is in the highest demand.
With a global marketplace that is changing faster than ever before, the most successful companies will be the ones that excel at driving innovation. To get a leg up on your competition, start by pushing toward gender equality in your top leadership roles.
By Karen Greenbaum
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