Empowerment of women is no longer just a buzzword. The world has realised that it is necessary to ensure that women, who constitute half of the population, have equal access in all spheres in order to achieve excellence in every aspect of the economy. More and more women are now part of the workforce and are fast becoming the key decision makers; globally 75% of all consumer decisions are made by women. And yet, according to the World Economic Forum, it will take another 217 years for the world to achieve gender equality at the workplace. Clearly, not enough has been done.

A study done over five years by Sodexo reports that the key performance indicators of organisations are substantially higher when they have a better gender-balanced team (40-60% women). The study covered 50,000 managers across 100 entities worldwide, performing a diverse range of functions. Operating margins, client and employee retention, employee engagement and safety showed an upward trend for organisations where women had 40-60% representation. Further, when the top-tiers of management had gender parity, the entire pipeline was more diverse, inclusive and streamlined, with the best talent being inducted, nurtured and promoted.

The study is an eye-opener, statistically showing what has been widely known all along - there are glaring cons to having an imbalanced team. Fortunately, the survey has prompted organisations to dig deep into their employee experiences, bringing several important facts to the fore.

1. Women are under-sponsored and over-mentored. Mentoring is about developing an individual’s competencies and sponsorship is about making the talent visible to the organisation and advocating on their behalf

2. Some women tend to want to have 100% of the job requirements before they raise their hand for a position.

3. In many instances, women don’t ask for a job or promotion but instead, believe that if they put their head down and do a good job the opportunity will come to them.

4. Some women question their ability to do a job, even when they have been tapped for a position.

5. Women are frequently stereotyped as better at certain jobs which end up being staff positions versus profit and loss or operational roles.

6. Often women who are assertive are perceived negatively as aggressive while men don’t get the same negative label for the same behaviours.

7. Women are expected to confine to a very narrow range when it comes to striking the right balance between being assertive, seen as male-dominant behaviours, and being nurturing, seen as being a female-dominant behaviour.

8. Frequently in performance reviews, women are commended for being team players and being collaborative, while men are commended for the results that they produce. These stereotypical assessments lead to divergent career trajectories for men and women.

These revelations now help organisations to understand better the bottlenecks in their organisational culture that prevent women from excelling. They are now addressing these challenges through mentoring and sponsorship as well as training such an unconscious bias. And many organizations are seeking male champions to interrupt unconscious bias when they see it and to engage the organisation’s culture, systems and policies to make it more inclusive.

Gender balance enables the entire ecosystem to thrive

Gender balance refers to an equal representation of men and women in organisations; it does not mean that women should get a priority or that the contributions have to be identical. In fact, the primary advantage of gender balance is the diversity it brings to the table – greater the diversity, greater the innovation and better the possibilities of success. A gender-balanced workforce enhances business performance because it:

1. Provides access to a broader talent base.

2. Spawns innovation.

3. Helps understand and addresses the needs of a diverse customer base.

4. Improves the quality of life of entire communities.

The potential for talent, growth and success is never limited by gender. This is the overriding reason for organisations to overcome prevailing prejudices; scout for good talent and reward excellence to band together the best workforce. With technology evolving every day, leaving half the population outside the circle is surely a sheer waste of resources.

Views are personal. The author is global chief diversity officer for Sodexo.

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