As a feminist millennial in a same-sex relationship, I can safely state that gender issues have always been top of mind for me.
Recently, however, the conversation around gender imbalance in the design industry as a whole has become more and more prevalent. With the number of female CEOs in the UK at 15%, we can hardly deny the need for change, but to paraphrase Daniele Fiandaca (Co-Founder of Token Man) speaking at a recent event on Women in Advertising, “no minority has ever achieved social change without the support of the majority.”
“With the number of female CEOs in the UK at just 15%, we can hardly deny the need for change.”
Reading Sam Levin’s article in the Guardian this morning about the “systemic” gender inequality at Uber, brought me to a new realization. The piece included a quote from Shireen Mitchell, founder of Digital Sisters/Sistas, which “promotes women of colour in tech,” where she stated “This is the world we exist in. It’s the cycle of not even acknowledging there’s this problem…They’re not interested in correcting this.”
While the Uber example is perhaps an extreme case, we all recognize that human beings resist change – they naturally associate it with risk. While some would argue that risk is a key element of agility, no company would countenance a risk to the status quo without some serious ROI to back it up.
Likewise, people are unlikely to change just because they think they should. Real change is the difference between thinking and doing, and this only achievable if all parties agree on the importance of the issue – whether or not it is worth the investment in change.
“Companies are not about to restructure in favour of gender equality just because they think it will make life easier for women.”
Companies are not about to restructure their culture in favour of gender equality because they think it will make life easier for women. This change will only happen if we can convince businesses that there is compelling, results-driven evidence demonstrating how gender equality will grow their market share. This is what will make gender equality in the workplace more than the latest CSR (corporate social responsibility) trend.
So what are these compelling reasons?
An inclusive workplace is a happy one, and few can disagree that positive employee engagement has a positive impact on results. Engagement has been linked with productivity, profitability, employee turnover and retention – so why not take advantage of what gender equality can bring to the table?
A study of corporate performance found that Fortune 500 companies with more female board directors outperform those without by 66% return on capital investment, 42% on sales and 53% on equity. While some studies dispute the balance of these results, the relationship between a gender-mixed board and higher achieving companies cannot be refuted. Business can’t afford to waste resources, and this includes the contribution female employees make to your company through human resources.
“Companies who employ more women at board level are more likely to have consistent, sustained results.”
A recent McKinsey study also found that companies who employ a larger proportion of women at board level are more likely to have consistent, sustained results than business with unbalanced boards. Additionally, many find that decisions made are better when they come from a group with diverse backgrounds and perspectives – the natural tensions between different groups lead to more rigorous testing of ideas and methods.
Creating an enviable environment
Companies with a history of nurturing diverse hires will naturally have an easier time hiring from diverse talent in the future, saving time and money on hiring initiatives. By developing a collaborative and inclusive environment and promoting this side of your company culture, you create an aspirational focal point within your industry. If your competitors are failing to recruit diverse talent, they will be the ones left behind as your creativity improves.
“By promoting gender equality in your company culture, you create an aspirational focal point in your industry.”
Women also form approximately half of the hiring talent pool, so to ignore them would be to dismiss 50% of your potential hires straight away. Women have also been found to be educated to a higher level than men, with a greater proportion of them earning university degrees (undergraduate and post-grad.) Capitalize on these skills and reap the rewards for your business.
Business listens to business, so by demonstrating an inclusive culture and the way it enhances your company, you will also be influencing your peers and industry. This is vital for perpetuating gender-equality as the norm across the wider business world.
Mirroring the marketplace
Women are responsible for 41% of purchasing power and 85% of retail decisions in the USA, with similar statistics emerging in the UK. Women owned-businesses have a huge impact on the economy and the numbers of female entrepreneurs is steadily rising. These facts, combined with the control the women’s market holds over multiple industries, should encourage companies to support women internally and bring them to the forefront of decision-making roles.
“Inclusive company culture achieves the core markers of commercial success — retention, high productivity and profitability.”
By mirroring the marketplace (and simultaneously supporting the largest ‘diverse’ group) in such a way, you will also encompass the needs of other sectors of the workforce. There is a growing expectation for employers to provide flexibility, closer colleague relationships and less hierarchical company structures – expectations that women share with millennials and Generation X, the fastest growing demographic in the UK.
Supporting the advancement of women in business is the right thing to do, but this fact alone won’t inspire progress. Inclusive company culture, aligned with pro gender-diverse business objectives will achieve the core markers of commercial success — retention, high productivity and, most convincingly, profitability.
Make gender balance part of your business agenda and you not only reap improvement in these areas, but you will be championing change for the better.