GUEST BLOG: Gender diversity isn’t just a feel-good initiative

In this contributed blog post, Damilola Erinle, area vice-president for UK & Ireland at Salesforce, discusses why businesses should see gender diversity as a way to increase productivity and revenue rather than just a “feel-good” task

For so long we’ve talked about gender balance in the workplace as important, something companies “should” be doing; but it can often feel like it’s more of a corporate social responsibility initiative that ticks a box because it’s the “right thing to do.” But advocating gender balance isn’t about women needing a handout – having a balanced workplace adds real business value. The companies that understand this and move from rhetoric to reality will be the ones that gain true competitive advantage.

The impetus for change? Every commercial organisation on the planet is trying to do one thing: increase the number of high quality, profit yielding relationships they have with their customers. To do this, you need to understand your customer base, create products that are relevant to them, and engage with them in an effective manner.

A few years ago, I was working with a German tyre manufacturer. If you look at typical tyre advertisements they’re often very male, very macho and very powerful. However, following some analytics on their tyre sales they soon realised that 56% of their tyres were actually purchased by women. Imagine how their sales could improve if they effectively managed their marketing strategy to lean on messages that women aligned to.

I recently spoke at Computer Weekly’s Women in Tech conference and outlined five key business reasons why gender diversity makes good business sense. In summary, they are:

1. Understanding the market & the customer – Roughly 80% of consumer purchasing decisions are made by women. In addition, more and more women are making decisions in the corporate world

2. Access to the best talent & retaining good women is a good business return on investment (ROI) – 60%of all graduates entering the workplace are female

3. Innovate/differentiate – Innovation requires diversity of approach – Men and women problem solve differently

4. Collaborate – release the synergy of working as a team – Women are strong collaborators and focus on building platforms of commonality

5. Balance risk and decision-making – Women accounting for at least 30% of senior leadership positions adds 6% to a company’s net profit margin

But when we start to move past the reasons for and look at how, we get to the hard part. How do we start to drive this change without the awkward “female quotas” or top down initiatives that can sometimes make both men and women cringe?

● Seek diversity of skills, not just people. Companies need to take time to understand what a healthy balance looks like to them. What are the multi-disciplinary skills they need at each level? Consider analytical skills, collaborative or pragmatic individuals, visionaries, creative thinkers and so on.

● Audit your language. Create job specs that speak more to the required skills vs the role. And don’t be afraid to modify the spec based on the evolving dynamic of an existing team.

● Educate the whole company on the value of diversity. Too many gender diversity events result in a large number of women surrounded by more women talking about the challenge. Whilst these meetings simply cannot be underestimated because of the value they bring in helping you realise you’re not alone, and giving you tips and tricks on how best to understand your potential, if men aren’t part of the conversation it’s like having an amazing conversation about your plans in the mirror instead of sharing it with a friend or a partner who can help you achieve those goals.

● Accept and embrace diversity as a principle. A great colleague and friend of mine talks about people’s “natural genius”; I love that term, it encapsulates the value that anyone can bring to the table if we take the time to understand and appreciate it. Being different is OK, in fact it’s pretty cool. So when trying to fill roles, be creative about how you find a balanced pool, and think about an interview process that truly tries to expose the skills, competencies and traits you’re looking for.

● Take a bold step. There are so many things you can do, so don’t be afraid to make distinct changes. Run an exercise on the gender pay gap and address differences (both ways) where appropriate, re-write your job specs with more open language, agree what a balanced hiring pool looks like and stick to it, give back and mentor women outside and inside the company.

Whatever you decide, make sure your employees understand why this important to you and why it should be important to them. There is such a big opportunity to drive cultural and business change for the better, we just need to keep believing that it’s worth it.