Women in business bring diversity — a crucial asset in dealing with today’s complexities
The head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde — one of many noteworthy women in roles at the highest level — recently remarked that women score higher than men in 13 out of the 19 requisite leadership qualities.
As Dr Celia de Anca of IE University points out, even Christine Lagarde’s sway over the financial health of the Eurozone, while self-evident in its significance, comes with a caveat. One need only look to the male-dominated team that has been assembled round about her to notice the problem. Pictures from her time as managing director of the IMF are not much better.
In the same article, de Anca draws attention to the colossal importance of having greater numbers of women in top tier financial roles. She uses the context of Tokiko Shimizu, the first woman to be appointed to lead the Central Bank of Japan, to underline the value in such a proposal. Recent controversy surrounding sexism and the Tokyo Olympic Games puts this episode into stark relief.
Among her arguments, de Anca underscores the logic of having women — a group that makes up half the population — equivalently represented in financial services. Female leadership and decision-making result in products and services that better meet the needs of women: avenues that are left untapped without appropriate levels of diversity.
“What the studies show is that women, whether because of their biology or education, can offer different qualities than men, and that the diversity they bring is a crucial asset in dealing with today’s complexities,” de Anca writes.
Crucially, she hints at another dimension of the problem: female leadership alone is not enough. Systemic change requires broad, far-reaching progress to be made at all levels, especially those resting below the core chambers of power.
Pathways to leadership
In her role as director of the Centre for Diversity in Global Management at IE University, Dr Celia de Anca is one of many women trying to change the status quo. She advocates, in particular, for more women in the classroom, seeing this as one way to balance the books in business.
“At IE University we firmly believe that more women in the classroom means more women in future top positions and more women becoming entrepreneurs, investors and decision-makers in the global sphere,” de Anca says.
IE University boasts an array of female-centric initiatives aimed at promoting and developing the unique intellectual identities of its students. The IE Women Initiative aims to highlight the ability of every woman to transform the world through their contributions.
“Diversity is at the core of IE’s culture. We actively support women managers and entrepreneurs through the different stages of their careers, particularly the most critical for their professional success,” writes Santiago Iñiguez, IE University’s executive president.
While this is, of course, a matter of principle, Iñiguez points out that this is also a matter of good business sense. Indeed, Dr Celia de Anca is one of a number of researchers who are studying the link between diversity and innovative capacity in business.
De Anca and her colleague Salvador Aragón together designed the first global index on diversity and innovation, devising the notion of Innodiversity — « the organisational capacity to jointly manage diversity and innovation and improve competitiveness. »
They argue that diversity and innovation are a “binomial of success.”
Supporting this conclusion, researchers at Stanford University have found further evidence that diversity influences the innovative performance of scientific research teams.
Diversity at the top
Despite the evidence outlining its benefits, many organisations still struggle to implement diversity effectively, according to a study by IE University researcher Dr Rocio Bonet.
Bonet and her colleagues discovered disheartening trends regarding the advancement of women in organisations. They noted that despite women progressing professionally more quickly than men do — taking less time to reach C-suite positions through promotions — their rapid ascent can be capricious.
For instance, once a company has one or two women within the boardroom, Bonet and her colleagues found that the rate at which women progress diminishes significantly. After there are four or more women within the top 10 roles, women in the company are promoted more slowly than their male colleagues.
Equally, women do not fill roles throughout structures with anything approximating a balanced distribution. Bonet and her colleagues conclude that the cause of this is the largely symbolic nature of much of the current female promotion practices. The driving force is shareholder appeasement rather than meritocratic selection.
“It is much easier to achieve diversity in a few top spots than throughout the entire organisation,” the researchers write.
Unfortunately, a growing body of literature suggests that this kind of “token” representation is harmful to the individuals who are selected in this way.
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