Today is International Women’s Day, a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. Why is gender parity, or balance important? And how has this moved from a women’s issue to a leadership issue?
Study after study has demonstrated that organizations with gender-balanced leadership perform better, whether in employee engagement, financially, or in client relationships. If this is the case, why do we still not have more gender-balanced leadership?
Barbara Amiss is the founder of the Gender Intelligence Group, a consultancy that works with organizations to create gender-balanced cultures. According to Amiss, in an article written for The Atlantic, one of the challenges for organizations is that they create a culture of sameness, and in many cases, that culture is based on a ‘model made for men’. Amiss goes on to say that in her research, women don’t leave companies because of a lack of work-life balance; they leave because they don’t feel valued. If the organization’s culture is one that values male gender-related characteristics, and women leave because they don’t fit in with these characteristics, then organizations will lose a lot of talent. Interestingly, Amiss’ research showed that the same thing happens within a female-characteristic dominated culture as well.
So, if women and men leave organizations because they don’t feel valued in a gender-dominated culture, why is that important? A recent Gallup poll of 800 teams in two organizations found that those with more balanced leadership (between 40-60 percent) performed better financially than those with more disparity. The research determined that gender diversity has the following benefits:
- Men and women have different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights, which enables better problem solving, ultimately leading to superior performance at the business unit level.
- A gender-diverse workforce provides easier access to resources, such as various sources of credit, multiple sources of information, and wider industry knowledge.
- A gender-diverse workforce allows the company to serve an increasingly diverse customer base.
- Gender diversity helps companies attract and retain talented women. Companies cannot afford to ignore 50% of the potential workforce and expect to be competitive in the global economy.
This is a sentiment echoed by Michel Landel, a chief executive at Sodexo. ‘By tapping into the full potential of men and women, Sodexo is stronger, more innovative, and better at serving its 75 million consumers worldwide.’ Research Sodexo did from 2010 to 2012 also supports the Gallup study that gender-balanced teams perform better, and found that gender-balanced leadership not only improves the culture for women, but also for men – many of the things women look for, including flexible hours, work-life balance initiatives, and parental leaves improve the quality of life for men too.
Landel says that Sodexo’s journey to being more gender-balanced has not been easy, and the biggest challenge that the company faced was promoting more women to management and leadership positions. In an article for McKinsey.com, Landel reinforces Amiss’ idea that the culture of organizations, and particularly in leadership is largely male-based, and that this can only change if addressed systematically throughout the organization. According to Landel, ‘to succeed in developing a more diverse and gender-balanced workforce, corporate leaders must be prepared to stand up to their executive committees, driving commitment and ensuring accountability even if the initial perceptions are negative. They have to do what they believe is right not just to improve an organization’s performance but to create a better world.’
At Capgemini, our leaders have also recognized that gender balance is necessary for success. James Robey, our Group CR&S Director stated, ‘greater gender balance at all levels is a crucial part of Capgemini’s journey towards creating a truly innovative culture where the power of ‘diversity of thought’ is recognised and valued both internally and by our clients.’
Women LEAD, is an Employee Resource Group in North America that supports the growth and development of women at Capgemini. It is a network of women and men who value gender diversity to foster leadership, excellence, action, and development and is led by Jacqueline Young and Graham Hughes. According to Jacqueline, to remain competitive, we must understand and recognize how gender bias exists in our organization, and then work towards eliminating it. It is also critical that we hire and retain top talent, and especially in leadership roles. Jean-Claude Viollier, Corporate Vice President and Global Sales Officer agrees. ‘Year after year, I have been inspired by the women in our organization who spur innovation, increase our client impact, and help retain our Top Talent. It is imperative that we make gender diversity a top priority by creating an environment where women have the opportunity to advance into leadership positions.’
How do we encourage a gender-balanced culture at Capgemini? One of the ways Women LEAD is promoting this is by creating a LeanIn Chapter, and recently launching two LeanIn Circles – one virtual and one at our Houston office. The LeanIn Circles help foster creativity, drive innovation, and guide business strategies. Other activities, including engaging our leadership and employees thorough initiatives and local events help support and promote a greater gender balance.
“The time for talk and commitment has long since passed. An acceleration to impact on this most important matter must now take center stage. Diversity and inclusion in all of their dimensions, notably in thought and collaboration, have emerged even more prominent than ever before. They are central to our relevance, credibility and value for our clients, to our ability to attract and retain the best talent, and to generating the most innovative and contemporary solutions and business outcomes. I implore all of us to take on this challenge as we acknowledge International Women’s Day, demonstrate that all people and their ideas matter, and together make a long-lasting and meaningful difference beginning today.” Lanny S. Cohen, Group Chief Technology Officer, Group Executive Committee
It is fundamental that we continue to change our culture and recognize the value that a gender-balanced organization has – the financial impacts, the higher level of engaged employees, reduced attrition, and competitiveness.
This year, International Women’s Day’s hashtag is #PledgeforParity. How will you promote a gender-balanced culture at Capgemini?