Female factor: women have the skills companies need Image: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
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You’ve probably heard about the girl effect: if you invest in the education of young girls in developing countries, you will help local communities much more than by giving any other form of aid. The Clinton Global Initiative found that closing the gender gap in education adds half a percent to a country’s per capita gross national product; that when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men. That’s an incredibly powerful fact.
I haven’t seen any numbers on this for the world of business, but as a CEO I know for sure: companies that don’t make women an integral part of their workforce, from top to bottom, miss out on a tremendous advantage. I’m not talking about equal opportunity for quota’s sake. I’m talking about sound business sense. I’ve said it before: it’s a ridiculous economic decision not to empower women. The most important task of CEOs is to ensure the perpetuation and profitability of their company, and diversity and equality in the enterprise improves the bottom line, plain and simple.
That’s especially true now, in a world where many of our old economic certainties are falling apart. Many business models – and even the global economy – are being shaken and shattered by shockwaves stemming from three fault lines: technology, talent and demographic change. Companies must reinvent themselves, because the old corporate culture of strict hierarchies simply will not cope with the changes ahead. To succeed, they need to evolve into businesses that are flexible, nimble and ready for collaboration.
This, however, requires a workforce with a broad skillset. Right now, many executive management teams focus their recruitment process on technical excellence; they want people who can be efficient cogs in the corporate machine. As a CEO, I have learned that I get better returns when I look for a broader range of abilities; complex problem solving, cognitive flexibility and creativity, for example.
The female factor
Too many companies today are still holding on to a corporate culture that sidelines these qualities, especially at the top. What they are missing is leadership diversity – or, pardon the buzzword, the “female factor”.
In my experience, women excel when it comes to getting the task done through collaboration, teamwork and critical thinking. They approach problem-solving and decision-making differently from their male counterparts and it is this kind of diversity in thinking that prevents a homogenous mindset, strengthens a business and propels it forward. Recruiting and promoting women is a very straightforward injection of skills that improves the company’s ethos and its business results.
Frankly, it’s a triple win – for the company, family and community, and society as a whole. At Tupperware Brands, we are heavily focused on women in business, on coaching them to succeed. To understand the impact, we looked closely at the outcomes. We are proud but not surprised that many of our senior line officers are women. Ditto for country managing directors – even in markets where machismo still reigns.
The same goes for our sales organization. In Mexico, for example, 99% of our female sales force improved their financial situation, and as a result 50% doubled the investment in their children’s education. Thanks to the right training, they also gained in confidence, and many now see themselves as leaders – ready to create opportunities and jobs.
On the other side of the globe, in Indonesia, the results are just as impressive. Our sales force did north of $200 million in sales last year offering women – who are typically shut out of the regional economy – a way to move beyond set social rules and rise above the poverty line. Thanks to the right training and opportunity, many of these women confidently build their own businesses and reap the rewards. They spend more on their children’s education, gain respect in their family, and nearly half of them now have the time and money to support others in the community.
Putting it into action
So how can companies make it work? It starts with the right mindset, and at the top.
At Tupperware Brands, we have made sure that the same number of men and women sit on our board. We don’t promote women because we feel obliged to, but because it is the right business decision. I recommend that you first think about the skillset and structure that your company needs, and then build the workforce that helps you achieve that.
Once you’ve filled the internal leadership pipeline with the right mixture of people and plenty of female factor, do three things: invest, train and mentor. Trust me: this pays off immensely, because the female factor is real. I have irrefutable proof it works.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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