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.