How and why appropriate gender balance is an immensely promising business opportunity
This is one of two books written by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox that I have recently read, the other being Why Women Mean Business published two years earlier (2008). Although they examine many of the same socioeconomic issues and core concepts, it would be unfair to both books to suggest that one is a prequel or sequel to the other. There is much to be said for reading both, perhaps WHY first, but each can – and indeed should – be judged on its own merits. At least that is the approach I now take.
In a perfect business world, all organizations are pure meritocracies. Only the best people recruit, interview, hire, and then train only the best candidates. Those hired then become evangelists for the organization while helping to ensure that- at all levels and in all areas – operations are productive, efficient, and profitable. Moreover, the organization has a steadily growing customer or client base, all of whom are evangelists.
In the business world as is, however, there are inequities and imbalances as well as ignorance, arrogance, incompetence, fraud, waste, etc. The best that leaders can do is to drive a process of continuous (albeit imperfect) improvement in terms of what is done, how it is done, and by whom. As the book’s subtitle correctly indicates, what Wittenberg-Cox offers is a “step by step guide to profiting from gender balanced business.” Only an organization’s leaders can - and should – determine the nature and extent of what that balance should be. As she correctly notes, “This is not about the advancement of women: gender balance — a relevant mix of both men and women — is simply better for business.”
These are among Wittenberg-Cox’s key points that caught my eye:
o There is no glass ceiling. Rather, “gender asbestos” that prevents organizations from creating “a relevant mix of both men and women.”
o The annual “20-first WOMENOMICS 101 Survey” (reports on the number of women in C-level positions in 101 largest companies in US, Europe, and Asia)
o A gender audit answers three Qs: “What’s our balance now”? “What do others do?” and “What does our balance now say about us?”
o There are four phases of the process to achieve gender balance: Audit, Awareness, Alignment, and Sustain.
o The key drivers of gender balance are leadership (individuals and teams), talent (best available), and markets (influence of women)
Re this last point, according to recent research, decisions by women account for at least 85% of all consumer purchases including everything from autos to health care. For example: 93% of food and OTC pharmaceuticals, 92% of vacations, 91% of new homes, 89% of bank Accounts, and 80% of healthcare.
o Employee training in establishing and then sustaining appropriate gender balance (Chapter 8)
o Six ways to “make a difference” in recruiting (Pages 239-247)
o Measuring performance, progress, and impact of gender balance initiatives (Chapter 12)
I commend Avivah Wittenberg-Cox on her brilliant use of various reader-friendly devices throughout the book. They serve two separate but interdependent and important purposes: they focus on important points, and, they facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of that material later. (That is why I highlight key passages and urge others to do so.) These devices include a “Checklist” of reminder questions at the end of each chapter as well as dozens of Figures and Tables, boxed mini-commentaries on real-world situations or major issues, and checklists of bold-faced key points or action steps to consider. Here in a single volume is just about everything a business leader needs to know about HOW to profit from gender balanced business, but also to derive substantial non-monetary benefits that include but are by no means limited to those who comprise the given workforce, viewed as a human community.
Two points are worth keeping in mind. First, it is no coincidence that most of the same companies listed annually as being the “most highly regarded” and ”best to work for” are also ranked among the most profitable in their industry and have the greatest cap value. Also, the results of dozens of major research studies indicate that feeling appreciated is ranked either first or second in importance to both employees and to customers. What about compensation and price? They are ranked anywhere between 9th and 14th.
Cheryl offers: The New York Times ran an article on October 26, 2009 entitled “Fund Plans to Invest in Companies with Women as Directors”. The referenced company is Naissance Capital and is located in Zurich Switzerland, one of my favorite cities in all Europe. I lived there for a year on assignment and was struck by the number of women who either ran for public office or were highly visible in influencing social change such as the cleanup of Lake Geneva. Knowing the Swiss, I wasn’t really surprised to see a company like this who will select companies for investment who have women on their board of directors. What did surprise me was their frank statement they would avoid investing in companies who did not have women on their boards. The size of the fund is also impressive: $200M now with plans to grow to $2B. While Naissance did not delve into great detail regarding their unique strategy, anyone who wants to learn more on why this is a fantastic idea should check out Why Women Mean Business: Understanding the Emergence of our next Economic Revolution by authors Avivah Wittenberg-Cox and Alison Maitland. The authors provide a compelling and well researched book summarizing both American and European studies on how the presence of women is affecting such interesting current topics as ethics, ROI, and change. Now, if I were a betting person, I’d place my $100K on the Naissance Capital horse. Don’t like the Swiss? Try Stargate Capital in the UK or Amazone Euro located in of all places, Geneva, Switzerland!
Sara says: We were having lunch with a young woman today who mentioned she was from a small town in Louisiana. When she shared the name of the town, I asked if she knew Frank and Jane, the sister and brother-in-law of my neighbors. Not only did she know them but they were her parent’s best friends. I’ve often said that 6 degrees of separation are often 2 too many! It’s not unusual for a woman to pick elements from a conversation (‘I work for a non-profit’ or ‘I need to change accountants’) to begin that elegant dance of “Do you know…?” It is second nature for women to connect. The nature of women should make them perfect for networking in business!
I thought it would be easy. I would simply flip through a couple of books about women and find support for my theory of women as network mavens. You could blow me over with a feather when I found just the opposite. Women get lost in the weeds at work and don’t take time to network. They are not as comfortable with those “off the record conversations” networking conversations. And they don’t get to the places where many decision are being made like golf courses, sports bars and … sometimes the most important, the men’s washroom! These ideas are taken from Why Women Mean Business, Whittenberg-Cox and Maitland …the words are mine. The bottom line is that we women have to get off the dance floor and up on the balcony. We need to be courageous and sometimes we may need to step in where we are not invited. Networking is a woman’s strength…but only if she uses it.
Cheryl offers: I recall working in one department at a large corporation that frequently met at golf resorts. I don’t play and I don’t drink beer. By the time we actually got to the business meeting, I often found many decisions had already been made, sometimes directly affecting my areas of responsibility. The first time I was surprised, the second time I was angry. There was no third time; I found another job.
According to research cited in Through the Labyrinth by Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli, women recognize the importance of networks as much or more than men. The perception we aren’t as good at it is based more on the causes than on the outcome. Women tend to carry more of the family responsibilities than men, leaving less time for networking. I can’t go for drinks after work if I’m shopping for dinner or taking the kids to soccer practice. I won’t likely invest half a day playing golf on the weekends when soccer games generally occur and I’ve got to pick up the cleaning, drop off a pair of shoes to be repaired, or visit a parent in assisted living. The most compelling reasons for finding the time to network come from research that shows creating “social capital” through networking “can be even more essential to managers’ advancement than skillful performance of traditional managerial tasks.” That fact alone tells me and every other woman we can’t just outperform our male counterparts. We must engage in the very important activity of networking AND it needs to be in both female and male dominated networks in order to be effective. The old saying about our need to be twice is good also plays here: We need to network in twice as many places!