Co-authored by Karin van der Auwera
Women remain blocked from the most powerful and lucrative positions in organizations. In economic powerhouse Germany, to take a striking example, women are typically highly educated, highly qualified and highly committed yet make up only 8.7% of management. Old boys networks is one hurdle, as are German women's underdeveloped awareness of the importance of networking. Another hurdle is their inexperience in positioning themselves into the promotion pipeline.
Additionally, German male managers reportedly tend to give their female staff high and demanding workloads, confident that they will excel and get results. Women, in turn, assume this will automatically win them respect and rewards -- financially and in terms of promotion. Yet they are frequently passed over by male colleagues who are more adept at branding themselves, socializing with their bosses and selecting those tasks which will get them noticed by their superiors.
This is not by any means just a German problem. Indeed, the European Commission is now considering introducing a mandatory quota of 40% for each gender for non-executive board positions, as reported in the Financial Times (July 16, 2015). Progressive Norway famously installed such quotas back in 2003, a reform which increased female board representation and helped to close gaps in pay.
Over the past several years, many studies have shown the advantages of teams which are diverse in terms of skills, age, culture, personality and, most especially, gender. Diverse teams, when well led, are more innovative and creative. Research carried out by Dr. Martha Maznevski, Professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at IMD, a top-ranked Swiss business school, has shown how well-led diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams.
"Diversity," says J. Frank Brown, Managing Director and COO of General Atlantic and former dean of INSEAD, a leading international business school, "is an absolute necessity for a team, and when I say diversity, I mean it in every sense of the word: gender, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, culture, personality type, area of expertise." (https://books.google.de/books?isbn=0230579450)
Business leaders, not just academics, agree. Anne Richards, chief investment officer of Aberdeen Asset Management, the largest listed company in Europe, recently told the Financial Times, "Mixed teams make better decisions. They are able to address challenges from different perspectives and, as a result, come up with better answers." (source: "The Fall of the Endangered Female Fund Manager," by Chris Newlands in the Financial Times, February 23, 2015, pg. 8).
Arguably the most powerful form of diversity is gender diversity. In one study, companies with women board members outperformed those with none by 16% on return on sales, and by a significant 26% on return on return on invested capital. "Gender diversity results in improved performance," Dr. Maznevski explains, "because it leads to different perspectives, angles, and knowledge being brought to the table."
An essential factor in this, according to studies by researchers at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Union College, is that women are superior at emotional intelligence. Skills and qualities such as proactive listening, empathy and reading the non-verbal signals that people send to each other help women leaders understand and better guide their teams, departments and companies to better performance, and to greater success on the marketplace.
To break this vicious cycle of females working ever harder while males reap the rewards, women have to learn networking and self-branding skills. What does it take to lead from theory to business reality? It is not enough that executives from both genders merely possess an awareness of this situation: the need to pro-actively identify, support and promote high-performing female employees. In a brutally fast-changing global business environment, modern, future-oriented companies must seize all the competitive advantages they can get. This is the logic of the capitalist system. Ironically, executives can easily access these resources right at home in their companies -- all they have to do is place their high-performing female employees into well-rewarded positions of power and influence.