Women matter: Why gender balance is smart

by | Feb 7, 2012

Curt Rice

Women matter.  Women in leadership matter. Women in leadership make companies better. And it isn't that hard to get more women into leadership positions.

These statements convey the core message of four reports, all called Women matter, that were produced by McKinsey & co. between 2007 and 2010. These reports have become extremely influential, providing basic research for pushing the discussion about gender balance forward. The research results in Woman matter help us argue that creating the circumstances for women to advance is not just right, it's also smart.

Over the past few weeks, I've written one entry each on about the four Women matter reports. An even briefer synopsis is given here, with links to the blog entries, which in turn lead you to the original reports.


The first report, Gender diversity: a corporate performance driver, looks for a correlation between the organizational excellence a company achieves and the percentage of women on its leadership team. And it finds that correlation: a gender balanced leadership team enhances organizational excellence, which in turn enhances profitability.

The correlation is studied more carefully in the second report, Female leadership: a competitive edge for the future. Why would it be the case that the presence of more women in a leadership team gives better results? Maybe it doesn't. Maybe the correlation suggests a different causality, going the other direction: companies that perform well can afford to invest in gender balance, and therefore have the luxury of doing what is right, even if it isn't necessarily smart.

But, fear not. Women matter 2 studies different types of leadership behaviors and establishes that women and men use different behaviors to different degrees. These different behaviors correlate with success factors, such that more success factors are achieved when the leadership collectively has a wider variety of behaviors. In other words, it is women in leadership that enhance profitability, not the other way around.

13 Initiatives

Women leaders: a competitive edge in and after the crisis looks at the kinds of actions that are taken by companies to enhance gender diversity. 13 different initiatives are identified. Several hundred companies are then surveyed and asked two questions. Which of these initiatives do you practice? Is gender diversity a strategic goal for your company?

The initiatives and the results of the survey are presented in this third report. We learn -- not surprisingly -- that companies which strategically prioritize gender diversity work implement more initiatives than those that don't. And we also learn which of the initiatives they implement.

Finally, in Women at the top of corporations: making it happen, the 13 initiatives are studied for their effectiveness. This report identifies which of the initiatives correlate with a high number of women in leadership positions in a company. The single most important factor correlating with higher percentages of women in company leadership is the engagement of the CEO. Throughout all four of the Women matter reports, in fact, it becomes clear that without engagement at the top, results are going to be limited.

Initiatives that work

Nearly half of the initiatives are shown to be ineffective in increasing the number of women in leadership, as I discuss on my blog. This is important information because all of the initiatives seem reasonable and important. Here we learn which ones actually work.

If we are going to push organizations to step up their work on gender balance and to create fair workplaces for men and women, we must develop good arguments that this work is good for companies. The Women matter reports are a major contribution to this work; they raise questions for more research, and they inspire us to engage and convince those who lead our organizations.

Curt Rice

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Curt is Pro Rector for Research at the University of Tromsø, which was recently awarded Norway's prize for gender equality. He was a member of the Science Experts Panel for the European Commision's genSET project. Rice is currently writing a book on gender balance for university leaders.
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