How Women Make a Difference

If you want a better-run business, put a woman in the boardroom.  Greater gender diversity helps corporate boards to function better, and all it takes is one woman to make a difference.  New studies show that the presence of female board members has a positive impact in a variety of areas, and that much of the corporate world is starting to notice.

Women are key assets on corporate boards.  They focus on details, and push fellow board members to do the same.  They speak up about their feelings, based on extensive experience.  Some women ask questions men wouldn’t think to ask.  They provide views and insights on a larger marketplace, which might be invisible to a homogeneous board.

Female board membership is prominent in North America.  Sixty percent of Canadian Financial Post 500 companies had women board directors in both 2011 and 2013.  Ninety percent of U.S. Fortune 500 companies had women on their boards in 2012 and 2013.

A government-appointed task force in the U.K. set a target of 25% women directors in leading company boardrooms by 2015.  As a result,
U.K. companies are focusing on the right mix of talent around the boardroom table, and corporate boards have seen a dramatic change over the past three years.

Women now account for 20.7% of directors on the boards of FTSE 100 companies.  In 2011, that number was just 12.5%.  A recent report found that only two of the FTSE 100 companies had all-male boards, compared to one-fifth in 2011.  Several EU member countries have even established legislation around hiring quotas for women.  Focusing on the vast talent pool of qualified women will help these companies and countries reach their diversity goals.

Women in Asia are making strides as well, but not as quickly as North America or Europe.  In Asia, female corporate board presence is on the rise, but at a slower rate.  China, Malaysia and Hong Kong have Asia’s highest female participation rates.  They also take the top spots for the highest proportions of female leaders in junior, middle and senior management.

India, by contrast, has one of the lowest female leadership rates in Asia at 29%.  Only 9% of those women are in senior corporate leadership roles.  As is true to varying degrees throughout the world, the female talent pipeline slows down due to a variety of factors.  For example, women are expected to take care of their elderly partents.  With this social tug of war between caring for children and parents, and climbing the career ladder, high-potential businesswomen in India are concerned about these personal sacrifices.

Recognizing that high female participation rates are vital to company growth and productivity gains, how is equality being promoted?  Some companies in Asia have made cultivation of female talent a priority.  Essar Group, an Indian multinational infrastructure, telecoms, mining and energy conglomerate, employees over 75,000 in more than 25 counties.  Relying on highly qualified talent in technical and engineering disciplines, their biggest challenge is to keep women long enough to grow to senior roles.

Firmly believing that women can lead, the company works hard to attract and retain female employees.  Essar Group supports female employee professional development, prioritizes continued dialogue between men and women, and provides an environment where women are encouraged to take their professional and personal goals seriously.

Organizations all around the world need support and resources to successfully deal with these issues.  HR and Learning and Development professionals play important roles by creating a culture that encourages women to progress in their career paths, and provides support and growth to ensure their retention.  Women’s involvement at all levels of management will continue to make a huge impact on corporate growth, making it a win-win for everyone.