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Making gender diversity a business normal in Asia

 09/29/2016 09:46 pm ET
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3 steps to get started and the #1 mistake you should avoid

Thais Compoint & Sun Xi

The gender gap has been a long standing topic around the world. According to the World Economic Forum, it would take 117 years away from now until 2133 to achieve global gender parity. In the business world, across regions and industries, the large majority of senior leadership positions are dominated by men. For example, only 4.4 per cent of S&P 500 CEOs are women.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the diversity gap is more outstanding. Its average percentage of women on boards in 10 regional markets increased from 9.4 per cent in 2013 to 10.2 per cent in 2014, but still lags well behind developed Western peers such as the United Kingdom (26.1 per cent), the European Union (20.8 per cent) and the United States (18.7 per cent), according to the Asia Pacific Board Diversity Report 2016.

Why gender diversity matters?

Simply speaking, gender diversity can help improve business performance and sustainability.

The Credit Suisse Research Institute’s report reviewed 2360 global companies and found that companies with women directors out performed companies without women directors in return on equity and average growth. McKenzie’sDiversity Matter report showed that companies with more women on top leadership positions are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Broadly speaking, gender diversity is increasingly essential to robust decision-making, more informed risk management and stronger corporate governance. Why? Because gender balanced teams perform better than homogenous teams.

In the industrialized countries, women represent 60 per cent of graduate students, and on average have better grades than men. Women drive 70-80 per cent of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence. So to attract qualified talents and to better understand your market needs, you need gender diversity.

How to start the journey?

Here are the very first three steps.

First, know your numbers. You need to understand where lack of gender balance is the most blatant. The key questions to ask yourself are: where are the women? At which levels of the organisation? In which functions? How do their recruiting, promotion and retention rates compare with men’s? Where are the gaps?

Second, identify priorities aligned with your business goals. What’s your burning platform to ask people to add one more topic to their priority list and change the way they do things? The key question to ask yourself is: where having more female talent will have the biggest positive impact on your business performance? Is it at top leadership level? Is it in the product development team? Is it in the commercial teams?

Third, get top leadership’s commitment. If you want people to take this topic seriously, it’s key to have it genuinely sponsored at the senior leadership level. Research has shown that most progressive leaders when it comes to gender diversity, have daughters! Asking a C-suite executive with massive influence in the organisation, and a personal interest on the topic could be a key success factor.

The mistake #1 you could make: Making gender diversity a women’s problem.

Once you know your pain points, are equipped with a strong business case for gender diversity, and have the topic genuinely sponsored at top level, you’re ready for a promising start.

You’re ready to set your vision and road map. But be careful: promoting gender diversity is not about taking isolated initiatives. It’s about taking the right initiatives in a systemic way, making sure that:

· you hold leaders and managers accountable for progress,

· you build their inclusive leadership skills,

· you review your processes and work organisation to make sure they are bias-free and inclusive.

· And you support women with targeted training, mentoring and sponsoring initiatives.

What many organisations tend to do is just to support women. That’s a tempting way to proceed: it’s highly visible, the women themselves feel special, and you don’t really question the dominant culture.

While such initiatives can be useful and necessary, they’re far from enough. On the long run they might generate a “gender fatigue”, that happens when organisations keep talking about gender diversity, take some initiatives, but fail to see changes in terms of representation.

In short

Don’t expect overnight results, the gender balance journey is a marathon, not a sprint. But the return on investment is well-worthy, especially if you get started on the right track and before your competitors.


Thais Compoint is CEO & Founder of Déclic International, a UK-based firm specialized in inclusion & diversity training, speaking and consulting solutions.  

Sun Xi is an independent commentary writer based in Singapore.

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