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Why Directors Need To Take Gender Diversity Seriously


Expert analysis from Patricia Doherty, a leadership and organisation development consultant, and co-founder of female leadership initiative, WoW.

There has been much focus on the absence of females in boards and in the C-suite.  For directors, the link between gender diversity and business performance has not always been clear. #WomanUp - an action plan on female leadership - was published with the explicit intention of filling that gap and providing practical actions for business leaders on how to grow the female talent pipeline.

There are six key facts that matter to directors who want to grow that pipeline and have better female representation in top teams.

1. Competitive strategy

Quite simply, the more women at the top, the better it is for business.  Gender balanced teams outperform those where a single gender predominates.  Businesses like Sodexo, Dell and Google have found that engaged, diverse teams land them business.   In the case of Sedexo, its research across 80 countries and some 50,000 managers found that there was a surge in profits in locations where leadership roles were split equally between men and women.

2. Talent acquisition and retention

Women outperform men at every academic level and smart companies know that harnessing and developing female talent will become a significant source of competitive advantage.  Mid-career is a recognised high risk point for retention as many talented women start to opt out at this stage.   Michael Buckley, ex-AIB Group CEO and a founder and member of the 30% Club’s Chairs Advisory Group said in an interview for #WomanUp, “CEOs and male managers need to be very conscious that you can lose really, serious talent at this stage. From a company perspective, it’s about preservation, about managing an existential type of risk.”

3. Women’s financial power

Womenomics has been coined to describe the huge shift in financial power to the female purse.  Several studies say that women are under-served by businesses and that they want businesses to relate to their specific needs.  Those businesses which are responsive to the needs of their female customers are likely to outperform those who don’t.

4. Corporate culture and mindsets matter

Many companies are committed achieving better balance in their teams and invest significant sums on gender diversity programmes but there is little evidence that they work.  Repeated McKinsey studies have found that corporate culture and mindsets play a key role in determining the success of these initiatives. Recognising the need to tackle these psychological barriers is the first step on the journey to change.

5. Corporate culture is resistant to change

Corporate culture, which starts with the board, is identified in numerous research studies as one of the biggest barriers to achieving gender diversity at the top. One of the main reasons corporate culture is so difficult to change has to do with the prevalence of biases which unconsciously and subtly disadvantage women. A good place to start for any board committed to achieving gender parity is by taking the Harvard implicit gender bias test. This gives good insight into individual biases and if board members agree to share their individual results, this will give insights into the scale of the problem the board faces.

6. Leadership

 Gender parity in organisations will only be achieved with deep vision, commitment and exceptional leadership from the board and CEO. “You need to be relentless in the pursuit of gender equality and give it ongoing board and executive level attention.  This is a culture change initiative and is extremely hard. It takes time, effort and real commitment,” said Mark Ryan, the former Country Manager for Accenture said in another interview for #WomanUp.

Patricia Doherty, a leadership and organisation development consultant, is a co-founder of WoW,a female leadership initiative, and a co-author of #WomanUp.  Patricia can be contacted on LinkedIn.

The views expressed in the posts and comments of this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Directors in Ireland. They should be understood as the personal opinions of the author. The content of this blog is for information purposes only and the Institute of Directors in Ireland is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied.