Research by consultants such as McKinsey & Company provides strong empirical support for the commercial proposition behind diversity – businesses with more diverse leadership teams make more money.
There is a simple reason for this. To solve problems with the best and most sustainable solutions it helps to have as wide a range of talent and experience as possible to draw upon.
And yet while this might seem like a self evident good, and while laws make discrimination illegal, the truth remains that the bar for women in business remains higher than for men. In the absence of legal impediments what is left is culture and attitude.
Earlier this year I sat down with executives from KINSHIP partner companies in the US to discuss the unconscious bias which still exists.
LaToya Nicole Benson, is the senior manager for client engagement at JeffreyM Consulting and Laura Fu, is the senior director, global product and international operations at Sprinklr.
According to Benson, “I work for a company now where I feel the president has been very intentional about employing and making accomodations for the others in our company , but that was not my experience prior to JeffryM.”
Benson previously worked for a large corporation in the transportation industry where the typical demographic was a 47 old white man. “When I started in my sales career at the time I would often say I was a triple threat because I was young I was black and I was a woman. I was in my 20s going into billion dollar corporations in places like South Dakota where they didn’t really look like me.”
She recounts what she describes as one of the best pieces of career advice she has received as she was transitioning into a new role. It was offered by a female VP who said. “People are already going to underestimate you and they are going to prejudge you. You may never be able to overcome that, but what you can do is show them you are the person they need by always providing them with the service, value and credibility.”
By taking this approach, Benson’s mentor told her, her critics would have no choice but to respect her. “Age, gender and race – those are things you will always have to overcome as a woman, and a women of colour.”
According to Benson, “Early in my career it was common for me to find myself in rooms with hundred of people at conferences where I was the only person that looked like myself.”
That is an uncomfortable and familiar experience to many women in business.
Her mentors words kept her in good stead. “I thought ‘I’m here to do my job.’ And I know I do this job well.”
For her part Fu cautions that even when women attain senior positions there are still attitudinal impediments in place.
“I personally work for the emerging markets part of the company, 100 per cent of the people I work with are men. There are the regular challenges you would imagine in business but if you are a woman, suddenly there is an additional layer to it.”
Fu has four children between the ages of seven and two, and a job that requires her to travel frequently from the US to Singapore, “I might be gone for up to three weeks. Before my last trip I cooked 21 dinners and put them in the freezer. That is something none of my male peers seem to ever have to think about.”
Then there are the additional costs that companies rarely consider.
“My partner works weekends and I take care of the kids then, so when I have to travel across the weekend it means that to have to pay for baby sitting. That is not a cost that I have ever expensed, but its also something that my male peers or bosses would not understand, because they have their partners at home on weekends.”
It was the same when she was breastfeeding her youngest child. “When a work call is scheduled for 5 am in the morning because of international time zones right, my male bosses or colleagues would just say ‘hey I’ll wake up at 5 am it’s just additional work’ but what they don’t don’t understand is I have a baby and maybe I’m breast feeding them.”
The bottom line for many women in business is that the lack of female diversity at a leadership level makes it hard for male peers to have and show empathy.
Everyone wins in these circumstances. As research by McKinsey and other demonstrates, companies that enact policies which make it easier for women to participate equally contribute to the success of the company and drive better results all around.
About the author
Caitlin Green is the CEO of KINSHIP digital which is a member of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit. Members provide their insights and expertise for the benefits of our readers. Membership fees apply.