Women & Diversity

by Alana Bonzi
Women & DiversityCreate opportunities and the talent will follow

Research has shown that diverse groups usually outperform homogenous ones — producing better analysis, problem solving and, generally, innovation. This is one of the key insights upon which Ernst & Young’s Groundbreakers initiative is founded. Beth Brooke, the company’s global vice-chair was in Tokyo in March to share some of the insights of the initiative.

According to Brooke, the current economic environment calls for a global mindset. One way to create that mindset is to invest in diversity; more precisely, in diversity of perspective. Diversity means different things to different people. For Brooke, it means different kinds of human experiences and perspectives found in people who may not look like you, act like you, or think like you. Because of their life experiences, people can perceive a problem or risk from a different perspective. This is now fundamental to business success. Diversity can lead to a more comprehensive picture of the situation. As a strategy for success, diversity is found in mathematical fact. Scott Page, a professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), in his Diversity Prediction Theorem says: “The collective ability of any crowd is equal to the average ability of its members plus the diversity of the group.”

But there are several caveats: the problem solvers must be smart (they should demonstrate different kinds of intelligence, not just IQ), with different ways of perceiving a problem that must be challenging.

article_201003_16With women making up over half of the world’s population, it stands to reason that we are the most accessible group for injecting diversity into political, social, economic, and corporate organizations.

And the current times seem to confirm that.

They seem to engender the need to move beyond business-as-usual. The old-boy network may have recognised the need for new ways of thinking. This could explain why gender issues made it to the CEOs’ agenda at the World Economic Forum in Davos, in January. According to Brooke, they spent a good deal of time discussing and trying to understand the needs of an emerging market: women. They viewed women in terms of talent, customers and decision-makers. Regarding talent and the workplace and the gender vs. influence disparity found there, Goldman Sachs mentioned in their April 2007 Economics Paper No. 154 — Gender Inequality, Growth and Global Ageing—that “Closing the gap between male and female employment rates would have huge implications for the global economy, boosting US GDP by as much as 9%, Eurozone GDP by 13%, and Japanese GDP by 16%. Encouraging more women into the labor force has been the single biggest driver of the Eurozone’s labor market success, much more so than conventional labor market reforms. The US and Japan, while starting from very different positions, have both made little progress in narrowing the gap between male and female employment in the past 10 years.”

“The US and Japan, while starting from very different positions, have both made little progress in narrowing the gap between male and female employment in the past 10 years.”

With few key role models in Japan and unsupportive policies and social safety network, the views and impact of women to shape the economy are severely compromised. For many companies, Japanese women are viewed either as a target market or non-regular employees. As customers, their strength lies in being able to make or break a brand or company. But in the boardroom it’s a different story. Ideally risk-aware Japanese women and their risk-averse male counterparts could create the broad thought processes needed to make descisions in this new business environment. But this does not happen and Japan is not alone in that regard.

There are three strong cultural barriers to closing the gap: national, corporate and familial. Of these, the easiest to change is corporate culture. The Groundbreaker program aims at doing that by fostering global leaders who can create the pipeline to get women the right experiences early on in their careers. These leaders actively seek out diverse opinions—they stir the pot to create an environment where it is safe to say a different opinion. They are great listeners. They anticipate the next big thing and see leverage in those different opinions. They also nurture a broad spectrum of talent and work on their own biases or lens with which they perceive others and their opinions. They cultivate a mindset and focus on transformational leadership in the quietest moments and focus on the outcome, not the process.

In the new global business environment, emphasis is placed on what a company stands for and what it does in, and for, the world. This is key to attract and retain talent that is comfortable with differences, that understands both the developed and developing markets and that thrives on competitive collaboration. The good news is that talent is equally distributed says Brooke. However, opportunities are not. Create them and the talent will follow.