Internationally, March is women’s month and according to some global measures South Africa has something to celebrate. Apparently, women here are making advances at the top of the corporate ladder, though this may be scant consolation if you’re stuck at the bottom and can’t get a leg up.
International research from NGO, Catalyst – based on 2014 census data – indicates South Africa is seventh in the world for female board representation. But the percentage is still only 17.1% of all seats at the strategic table.
When women chairmen are measured, we supposedly do even better. We’re world number two, but that still means only 5.5% of South African boards are led by women.
For most career women the issue isn’t ‘how well are we doing?’ but ‘how can we do better?’
Thankfully, the way forward is spotlighted by more and more research indicating that women are good for business. Essentially, the message for growth-minded companies is that you should promote more women if you know what’s good for you.
Look at the numbers …
A McKinsey survey showed that the 89 STOXX Europe 600 companies with the highest proportion of women leaders and at least two women directors outperformed every other company on the index.
Gender diversity helped to drive …
- a 10% higher return on equity
- a 17% edge in stock price growth
- and 48% higher corporate earnings (before taxes and interest charges)
US research from Korn Ferry, the world’s largest executive search business, showed that firms with women CEOs deliver better financial performance. Furthermore, firms with a high proportion of women executives do better in uncertain times, due to better processing of risk information.
Brand reputation improves, too. Korn Ferry says gender-diverse boards have better reputations and gender-inclusive leadership is associated with better corporate social responsibility.
In addition, gender-diverse organisations have stronger customer orientation, while diversity in terms of female leadership representation drives better rates of innovation.
The business case is persuasive, but how do individual women move forward?
Clearly, the 1980s model endorsed by Annie Lennox (‘Sisters are doin’ it for themselves’) has had limited success.
The contemporary insight – from Korn Ferry – is that a three-pronged approach works best, involving women, managers and the organisation.
Women have to work to remove ‘headwinds’ that make personal advancement difficult. Managers should actively support their direct reports as they tackle these inhibitors. Organisationally, leaders and HR should strive to remove headwinds as holding back women holds back the company.
Among guidance for women is the need to actively seek experience through VIC (visible, important, complex projects, build an executive ‘presence’ and communication skills, and establish strategic networks (relationships that build careers rather than social contacts).
Managers should guard against assumptions. They may feel a woman is not ready for a certain project, when a simple enquiry will reveal otherwise. Managers should express support for female subordinates, challenge team members who make stereotypical judgments of female colleagues and promote a diverse leadership style.
Such a concerted three-sided effort to promote gender diversity can improve the chance of success. That’s good for women … and business.
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