Gender Diversity Dividend

Researchers are learning there is a benefit to advancing women to more senior roles in business: the gender diversity dividend. Among companies that cultivate corporate diversity for competitive advantage, conventional wisdom holds that the more diverse a team, the better.  The more cultures, the more ethnicities, the more racial types, the more genders (male, female, and shades in-between), the more sexual orientations, the more diverse world views, the more innovative a company will be. Introducing alternative viewpoints informed by unique life experiences expands one awareness and sensitivity about the diverse customer populations that we serve.

Gender Diversity Dividend

However, now there is evidence the more women a team has, the better. So forget about stopping when women reach 50% of a team’s total as the perfect balance of Venus and Mars. Instead, if an organization really wants to drive results, the organization should push women into the plurality to 60, 70, 80 percent or more. This shocking bit of research has taken diversity science and stood it on its head.

Governor of the London School of Economics and Associate Director of a UK-based investment institution Christina Chow points out in a recent blog post:

“Diversity may not only have an impact on historical operations as expressed through earnings, but also on investors’ perception of a firm’s future performance.”

Of course, the utter irony is that women are nowhere near approaching the 50% point of gender equity in the executive suite of most major corporations.  A recent study found that women held just 13.5% of executive officer level roles in the Fortune 500. A third of the companies had no women executive officers at all. Zero. Zilch. None.

Rosie the Riveter

I first read about the research in the Workforce Management blog called Fistful of Talent, penned by a courageous man Tim Sackett of HRU Technical Resources. His take away wasn’t that this called for downsizing men, or upsizing women in our ranks, but rather this was a lesson about how to work better in teams. His article pointed to a Harvard Business Review piece in which the researchers describe their findings, Defend Your Research: What Makes A Team Smarter? More Women. When professors Anita Woolley and Thomas Malone studied the factors that increased a group’s collective intelligence, they made some surprising discoveries. According to the article, researchers “gave subjects aged 18 to 60 standard intelligence tests and assigned them randomly to teams. Each team was asked to complete several tasks—including brainstorming, decision making, and visual puzzles—and to solve one complex problem. Teams were given intelligence scores based on their performance. Though the teams that had members with higher IQs didn’t earn much higher scores, those that had more women did.”

So forget about sprinkling in just a few women to ensure diversity as is so often the case.  To make teams smarter, instead of a soupcon of females, we’re talkin’ “beaucoup” –  a plurality that by definition is most decidedly not diverse from a gender perspective.  The only caveat is that the benefit may wane at the extreme end. Consequently, you don’t want a team to be completely devoid of men.

So how is it that women make groups more intelligent? It turns out we are great team players. Apparently, it’s written in our DNA.  We are masters of communication (listening) and constructive criticism. We are open to ideas and we’re not as autocratic as men.  Our natural ability to play nicely with others not only demonstrates how smart women are, but how we elevate the game for all involved.  The research makes a strong case that the best man for the job may, in fact, be a woman. Lots of them.

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