One more International Women’s Day (IWD) just got over. Many companies organized events, mostly around health advice for women. More speeches were given by women achievers on breaking the glass ceiling. CEOs and HR heads shared the need for gender diversity. And almost always these events are organized by women at workplace- of women, for women by women! Men rarely seem to attend the events. It’s like trying to evangelise the already converted!
Every organization today talks about gender diversity and stakes claim that they want more women at the middle and the top. In most organizations women at the starting level is not much of an issue. Management worries about losing women mid path and very few making it to the top. Companies which are serious about this issue, have come up with measures to tackle the bleed- flexi hours, working from home, crèches at work, second career, mentoring etc, are just a few of them. Is that enough?
At every IWD day speech you hear at least one person quote a McKinsey study that showed having women in the board or at the top meant better financial performance and that is a driver for increasing the gender diversity. However do companies really know what women bring to the table? Do men and women bring the exact same professional skills or do women bring some unique skills to the table? Are we measuring the performance of men and women the same way- productivity measured by number of hours spent, tasks completed? As a woman I have felt frustrated, guilty for not being able to stand up to the same measures as men. And am sure many others do.
Generally a manager’s reaction to the question what does a woman employee bring to the table would be restricted to warm and fuzzy stuff- loyalty and better team player. Which some describe as soft skills. Yes women in general are the pallbearers of the values, be it at home or work. They are the guardians of the deep culture. This is usually reflected in their loyalty and longevity at firms. They have a strong sense of community and invariably contribute to making teams better. Do these have positive implications for a business? Does this mean anything at all financially? Do the “soft skills” deliver “hard results”? I have personally experienced greater creativity, innovation and productivity in an environment of empowerment, collaboration and team work resulting in significant savings and financial gains for the organisation.
Maybe it is time for organizations to invest in finding out what women really bring to the table. Today there is recognition of the need for, what Daniel Goleman called, Emotional Intelligence in leadership to be more effective. It also assumes that the oganisations which demonstrate a higher level of emotional intelligence are more effective and successful in the long run. Most of the qualities such as empathy, managing relationships, building common ground etc that are central to emotional intelligence can be termed as “feminine”. Both men and women can possess them, but they are more naturally manifested in women. One direct outcome of increased number of women at the middle and higher level would be the greater presence of attributes such as collaboration, cultural depth, sense of purpose, working with ambiguity, cross cultural sensitivity.
Recognition of what women bring to the table is the easy part. That alone will not increase gender diversity. There is a need to connect the attributes women bring to the table and the economic value they produce. When we can translate the impact of specific skills to the bottom line, then due credit can be given to those skills through recognition and financial compensation. Maybe that will really make many more women stay despite their life events, or at least plan to come back to the workforce more readily. To know they are not stepping into a man’s world measured by the men’s yardstick, but into a world where what a woman brings is valued.
So before the next International women’s Day comes around, what if we put our best minds to create a story of what women bring to the table, how that contributes to better economic value for the organization and how it can be measured and rewarded. That might just address one key issue in increasing gender diversity!