That a greater representation of women in an organisation broadens the range of perspectives in the decision-making process, stimulates critical thinking and creativity, and heightens business results and profitability, is no longer breaking news. Here are just a few strands of evidence:
A recent global study from the Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY analysed results from 21,980 public traded companies in 91 countries, across various industries and sectors. The study showed that having at least 30 percent of women in leadership positions added 6% to net profit margin.
The 2015 study Women in business: The Value of Diversity by accountancy firm Grant Thornton looked at 1,050 businesses—200 in India, 350 in the UK, and 500 in the US – and compared the companies with at least one female executive board member with those run totally by men. The study found that diverse boards had a higher return on assets on average than the male-only boards, as the graphic below denotes.
While the gender dividend is clear and compelling enough to trigger drastic action, little has changed even though the advancement of women has been a focus of many corporations for over 25 years. While the numbers may be creeping upward, they are still staggeringly low. Women continue to be under-represented within top management ranks. This is despite the fact that organizations have long been using a cocktail of initiatives including legislated quotas, work flexibility, better onsite childcare, female advocacy and empowerment groups, and greater support from the top. Not discounting the importance of these policies and initiatives, the debate over why more women do not make it to the top remains unresolved. Which begs the question: are we treating the true cause of the problem or merely addressing the symptoms with very costly measures? Are we missing something greater, something more foundational upon which the other initiatives then complement?
Let’s look at some barrier-breaker examples, women who in their own right have shattered the hard glass ceiling.
Throughout her career she has faced unusual challenges—intellectual, political and otherwise—in the male-dominated worlds of law, politics and finance. She rebuffed all doubters after having started out as a lawyer who was told that she had little future in the field. French-born, she was the first woman to take the reins of the International Monetary Fund, at a time when the institution was in crisis and facing an international media firestorm. In her role, she’s had to go head-to-head with some of the world’s most important countries to help save the Euro. The silver-haired mother of two has maintained the difficult balance of speaking diplomatically while telling tough truths. On being an effective leader she has said, “I think that I would not have been an effective leader if I had not believed in what I was doing … Condition number two is to just give it all. In other words, to do it whole-heartedly and engaging completely in the mission that you set for yourself.”
This little girl was born and raised in India. Her mother instilled in her the belief that she could grow up to become whoever she wanted. Her confidence and work ethic helped her achieve an MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1980, and to start building a successful career. In 2006, she became PepsiCo’s first female CEO, and well as its first CEO not born in the US. Early on in her career she said men wouldn’t make eye contact with her in meetings and would consistently check her answers with other male colleagues. But rather than wilt under the pressure, she began to call men out on their actions, and it wouldn’t take long for them to realize she was highly adept at her job. Listed on the Forbes’ 50 Most Powerful Women list, she explains “If you want to be CEO of a large company or any company, it’s got to be a passion, it’s gotta be your calling. When somebody asks me about work-life balance, I think, what work-life balance? The job is work and life. Home is also work and life, so there is no balance.”