Women Are Not A Diversity Issue

Since I researched and published Unwritten Rules, I have become intrigued that the issue of women and leadership most often falls in the category of “diversity and inclusion.”

Why is that women are considered a “diversity” when they constitute 60% of university graduates in Europe and North America?

How do women come to be considered a “minority” when they now make the majority of spending decisions and  control about $20 trillion in consumer purchasing each year?

It’s time we changed our mind-set and stopped buying the “women are a diversity” propaganda. And it’s time that companies explained why their supposed meritocratic promotion systems continue to promote more men than women.

Rethink the business case

Despite a strong business case promoting the advantages of more women on boards of directors and executive teams, we’ve made very little progress towards gender balance at the top of organizations.

Current numbers of women on executive committees are 15% in the USA, 7% in Europe and only 3% in Asia.

Although studies show that women bring different and additive strategic viewpoints to men; and show a strong correlation between more women at the top and better financial performance – senior male leaders and shareholders don’t seem to believe it.

Instead, women are relegated to often patronizing “diversity and inclusion” initiatives that take a “fix the women” approach and do little to promote gender-balanced leadership where it really counts – on boards and executive teams.

4 actions we can take right now

  1. Change our orientation and stop thinking of ourselves as a “diversity” or a “minority.” There is nothing “diverse” about being a woman and in many cases, such as university degrees and buying power, we are the majority.
  2. Include men in the conversation – especially major shareholders, executives and board members – about why they continue to favor men, despite the business case for gender-balanced leadership. If we think we can achieve change without engaging men who hold most of the power, we are fooling ourselves.
  3. Influence organizations that gender balanced leadership needs to be a strategic business issue. If it remains a diversity issue or a women’s issue it is unlikely to result in more women at the top. Like all organizational change initiatives, unless it is part of a strong business case that’s led by the senior team, it’s likely to fail.
  4. Stop taking a “fix the women” approach and start looking at how we fix our organizations. Successful 21st century organizations will be those that can attract, promote and retain talented women leaders; and reap the benefits of men and women working together in gender balanced teams.

Women are not a “diversity” and so let’s stop acting like one.

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