Add women and the benefits keep coming

There are many things we can and should do to increase gender diversity.

Diversity is always useful in business. In a company, we are aligned around mission, values, and strategy. On that foundation, diversity improves strategic thinking and makes us more awake and agile. Diversity helps to make individual weaknesses irrelevant. Diversity-embracing companies are meritocratic and therefore perform better than companies built on a narrow people base.

To be a supporter of diversity means to remove obstacles and provide equal opportunity. The goal of diversity is not some particular percentual distribution. It is for nobody to feel unfitting, uninvited or unwelcome. Where diversity happens, the most potent team can be formed.

In society and in business we have far too many groups that consist only of men. Adding just one woman to a group consisting of men has a positive impact. Not only will the group receive the benefit of a thinking that is more diverse, the existing members of the group will also upgrade their own conduct. (As a side comment, this is also why some single-gender business groups don’t want diversity. The members are too convenience-loving to be ready to upgrade their conduct.)

When more women are added to a group, the benefits keep coming. It is simple math. The broader the base we can recruit from, the more appropriate the people choices can be. The wider our thinking is, the less risk there is for business-impeding blindness.

Women and men are alike in innumerable ways. They are also different. Of all the differences between men and women, there is one worth considering when striving for gender diversity. Study after study show that on average men overestimate their abilities just a little, and women typically underestimate theirs. Men get what they negotiate; women don’t get what they deserve. Individually men and women may stray far from their gender average, but we should acknowledge that there is such a difference between the two groups. When recruiting, promoting and appointing people to responsible roles, we should account for the possibility that some candidates present themselves better than others. We should learn to look through the confidence or lack thereof to assess every candidate for their genuine skills and abilities. In an ideal world, job candidates get what they deserve, not what they negotiate.

There are many things we can and should do to increase gender diversity. A concrete action is to arrange with male mentors for female executives. Given our history of a male-dominated business world, a large majority of the wise elders are currently men. Given our goal of gender diversity, a majority of those we aim to mentor need to be be women. Logically, therefore, the most experienced men in business should mentor up-and-coming female executives.

Cross-gender mentoring has two positive effects. The mentees will advance faster in their careers, and the wise elders will be exposed to thinking and approaches that they may have missed all their careers. The great thing with mentorship is that it helps the mentor too. Successful people who don’t start to mentor others will over time lose touch with their own excellence. Mentoring someone connects you back to the original you who became so accomplished. At the same time, you learn something new that allows you to evolve and improve.

The work to achieve gender diversity needs to start early in the lives of our children. We tend to compliment boys for their courage and attempt, girls for their beauty and kindness. As a result, boys grow up thinking that society wants them to try hard and develop courage. Girls grow up believing that society expects them to be kind, caring and nice to look at. None of those characteristics are wrong, but they are not the whole truth, nor are they necessarily the most important things to impress on a young person. Kind boys and courageous girls (both of which we need a lot of) struggle to find role models for themselves. Other important and useful character traits go unnoticed altogether.

As adults, we need to learn to appreciate every child for what they uniquely are and what they can be, not for what a stereotypical role model might dictate for them. We need to apply this insight not just for the benefit of our own biological children, but for all children in our community. It takes a village to raise a child. If the village is unbiased and appreciative of every human strength, we will have a great future.

The companies that are able to adapt to diversity and develop their internal culture towards inclusion are the winners of tomorrow.

Marten Mickos

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