Fourth Industrial Revolution

Could gender diversity help companies be more innovative?

Image: REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

Alison Kay
Global Vice-Chair, Industry, EY
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I don’t know if you’re one of the 12 million people and rising who have watched the video of the robot “Atlas” being pushed over and getting up by itself since it was released last week. But it’s clear that advances in technology are leading businesses and societies into new terrain. In the financial services sector, we’ve seen what bots and artificial intelligence can do to trading. Increasing numbers of driverless cars are on the roads. Drones are helping to transform traditional agricultural practices, repair oil rigs and construct buildings. Smart homes are just around the corner. Nano robots are being designed to destroy cancer cells inside the body.

Disruption is here.

These are exciting times. There are new opportunities in every sector. And it is in these disruptive times when innovation and fresh thinking are needed like never before. Gender diversity is critical to achieving this.

So there’s never been a better time to be a woman in business. Right? Think again.

The World Economic Forum estimates that the global gender gap – the time it will take for women to achieve parity in the workforce – has increased from 80 years to 117 years in 12 months. We’re going backwards. We can’t wait 117 years for gender parity. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

Taking action for gender parity

When I say “we”, I mean you, and me, and thousands of other people. As part of International Women’s Day, EY is encouraging people everywhere to move from words to action. We are encouraging people to take a gender parity pledge. To commit to actions – large or small – that advance women in the workforce.

I am personally making a pledge to strengthen the pipeline of female talent at EY. Businesses everywhere have many talented men and women. However, women are just not rising through the ranks at the same rate. And while there may be a number of complex reasons for this – from unconscious bias to insufficient sponsorship to women not getting the experiences they need to rise to the top – the simple truth is that women are not yet adequately represented in succession planning.

My pledge is this: to ensure that women are fairly represented in succession planning for leadership positions.

This isn’t just about gender equality or parity. It’s about recognizing the bright, capable women out there excelling at their jobs and making great contributions to the teams they serve day in, day out.

How diversity can help with disruption

Gender diversity is also part of a larger picture of building diversity in its broadest sense and bringing together the right mix of different backgrounds, thinking styles, sexual orientations, abilities, cultures and ethnicities, and then ensuring these perspectives all have a seat at the table.

I’ve personally experienced the difference diverse teams can make, in terms of better reflecting customers, challenging “groupthink” and making more robust decisions. And I’m not alone – recently a number of leading women shared these examples about how gender diversity is helping them to finetune product offerings, innovate and be more in step with customer needs:

“Climate change has hit Western Australia harder and faster than almost anywhere on the globe. We have to think differently about how to maintain our water supply. Our business model requires us to change people’s behaviour – we’re telling them how long to stay in the shower and what plants to put in their gardens – and you can’t do that unless you represent the customers you serve. Diversity in leadership and across the business means we have insight into how our customers make decisions and what matters to them.” Sue Murphy, CEO, Water Corporation

“Banking has a long history, and current practices are very different to what’s been done in the past. We need diversity of thought to question outdated norms and to challenge ourselves on how we can truly put customers first.” Karin Cook, Group Director, Operations, Lloyds Banking Group

“Diversity is important because the marketplace is diverse. Distributed generation, mobile apps and a transforming grid mean that utilities are becoming more tightly involved with what customers and entrepreneurs are doing. We need to embrace different ways of approaching the market.” Mary Doswell, Senior Vice-President, Dominion Energy Solutions

We need diversity now, because business as usual is not an option. Disruption is forcing businesses to re-examine the way they operate. Part of this change is valuing the contributions that a diverse mix of employees can make.

Take a pledge for gender parity

I don’t want to wait four generations for gender parity to happen, so that it’s only my great-great granddaughter who experiences equality in the workplace. I’m taking action today and I hope you will too.

Take a pledge for gender parity. Whether you are a staff member who pledges to speak up more often in meetings so your opinion is heard, a manager who pledges to sign up your team for unconscious bias training, or an executive who pledges to seek out and sponsor an aspiring woman in your organization, you can make a difference. Whoever you are, you can take a pledge today to change tomorrow.

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Related topics:
Fourth Industrial RevolutionEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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