By JOYCE KADUKI
Most companies, professions, government institutions, and non-professional bodies such as political parties and churches have been historically dominated by men. Even now, there are more men than women at the workplace.
According to the International Labour Office’s publication Women at Work: Trends 2016, women’s labour force participation in 2015 was estimated at 49.6 per cent. The finding that there are fewer female employees than male is consistent with the results of another study – Women in the Workplace 2016 – which was conducted by McKinsey and LeanIn.org among over 130 companies and more than 34,000 men and women. This second study established that women remain underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline.
Apart from just correcting the gender imbalance, there are real, definable and measurable benefits of employing women, making the business case for attracting, recruiting, developing and retaining women a strong one. The advantages range from increased profits to improved morale, enhanced company reputation and more. What evidence is there to back this assertion?
A recent study undertaken by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) whose findings are summarized in a report titled, Investing in Women’s Employment – Good for Business, Good for Development, identifies specific benefits such as strengthening organisational capital, driving innovation, improved compliance and risk management, enhancing community outreach and creating new markets (or expanding existing ones). Let’s look at these and other factors in a bit more detail, below.
Improved bottom line
A number of research studies attest to the fact that attracting and employing women has a positive impact on a company’s bottom line. Consider a Gallup study which established that because men and women have different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights, which enables better problem solving, this ultimately leads to superior performance at the business unit level and makes bottom-line business sense. Gallup, which provides research and strategic consulting to large organisations in many countries, examined the gender balance and financial results of more than 800 business units from two companies representing two different industries – retail and hospitality. They found that the business units with greater gender diversity performed better financially than those dominated by one gender.
A Mckinsey Global Institute study yielded results which are consistent with Gallup’s. In their September 2015 report, they found that USD12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality – such as participation in the workforce or presence in leadership positions. To put that figure into perspective, it’s like the 2015 GDP of Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined.
Strengthened organisational capital
Ensuring that women are part of the talent pipeline – from entry level to senior leadership positions – would mean that businesses would enjoy a consistent supply of gender-balanced employees. Gender stereotypes abound about the differences between men and women employees and managers. When you consider the relational styles of men and women, women tend to be more socially and relationally oriented than men. They therefore exhibit greater willingness to express feelings, negotiate relationships, and give and receive feedback. This contributes to solving of disputes which has a positive effect on the work environment.
In the IFC study quoted above, employing more women results in strengthened team dynamics. This is because women often have the skills to unite people, draw participation and improve decision-making. This results in improved staff morale, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and increased staff engagement – which is all good for business.
According to a 2013 Harvard Business Review article titled, How Women Drive Innovation and Growth, women represent a growth market more than twice as big as China and India combined. It says that women have valuable insights when it comes to devising products or services that better serve female clients and customers. Apart from women being the primary decision-makers and influencers in many consumer purchase decisions, more women are enjoying increased ownership and operation of private businesses and experiencing improved earning power. All these mean that there’s a lot of potential for businesses which figure out how to satisfy the diverse and increasing demands of the female customers. The combination of women’s valuable insights and pressure on businesses to determine how to satisfy evolving and increasing women-driven demands present unique opportunities for business innovation.
Improved compliance and risk management
According to the IFC study, compliance with statutory requirements, including anti-discrimination legislation and relevant international standards, is an important part of any company’s risk management strategy. It says that investing in women’s employment can help businesses manage risks and reduce potential liability for non-compliance in relation to labour, health and safety, non-discrimination and sexual harassment, therefore reducing exposure to fines or the legal costs of addressing claims. The report advocates for more proactive approaches to compliance to reduce risks even further, by treating the root problem (for example increasing the voice of women in the workplace), rather than responding to the symptoms (for example grievances) on an ad hoc basis.
Enhanced corporate image
‘Equal opportunities employer’ – which refers to non-discriminative employment practices as far as gender, race and other minorities-related issues are concerned – is not just a nice phrase to have in your vacancy announcements and company policies. It’s a real difference maker. Employing and retaining women can improve a company’s image and reputation. A study undertaken by PwC and published in 2015 in The female millennial: A new era of talentfound out that 83 per cent of women seek careers with businesses which demonstrate strong records of diversity and equality. These women are attracted to these businesses because of the reputation built over time.
An Ernest and Young – Canada publication, Heroic sponsorship: are you strong enough to do it?says that successful companies will be those that can attract and retain the best and brightest talent – which is increasingly female. The case for employing more women in business therefore goes beyond acquiring talent, to promoting gender equality in the workplace.
Dina Habib Powell, who is the global head of the Office of Corporate Engagement at Goldman Sachs says that research report has identified the greatest single investment in enhancing the prosperity and peace of a country is economically empowering its women. The business rationale for attracting, recruiting, developing and retaining women in the workplace is strong – it results in a ‘win-win’ situation for both employer and employee. Therefore, companies should purposely invest in initiatives which make them appealing to female prospects, get them on board by following non-discriminative employment policies, ensure they provide growth and development opportunities for them, and hold onto them.
Joyce is a Coach, Teacher & Speaker and Founding Partner at The John Maxwell Team