There’s a growing body of research proving that diverse and inclusive organisations are more innovative, productive and smarter, and they have healthier bottom lines. They’re also more connected with the wants and needs of customers, who let’s be honest are a diverse bunch themselves.
The business case for gender diversity can no longer be ignored. A 2015 McKinsey report found that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15% more likely to have better financial returns than the national industry median. Researchers from MIT and Carnegie Mellon have found teams that include women are more successful at logical analysis, coordination planning and problem solving. While a recent EY report talks about gender diversity being a crucial piece of the puzzle in unlocking the innovation required to tackle current market disruption.
Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence to support the call for more gender diverse workplaces, progress remains sluggish, with five disconnects holding back gender diversity and stifling innovation in business. There’s disconnects in reality, data, pipeline, perception and perspective, and progress.
The female economy
But, it’s not just the benefit of improved productivity and innovation that should push organisations towards progress, it’s also the ability to connect with and better serve customers, who are increasingly expecting businesses to talk to them as individuals. If companies want to survive these disrupted times, they need to learn to connect with their customers – particularly the fast-rising, and rapidly growing female segment.
Bec Brideson, gender intelligence expert and author of Blind Spots: How to Uncover & Attract the Fastest Emerging Economy, agrees. “The evolving female consumer has enormous clout, yet is such a missed opportunity for most businesses,” she says.
“Any way you look at it, women's economic influence is increasing. They’re spending the money and making the decisions, or at the very least influencing the purchases – they control $28 trillion of the $35 trillion global consumer economy and as predicted by EY, will control 75% discretionary spend by 2028.
“One of the most seismic shifts in the marketplace this century is going to be the realisation that women are highly valuable consumers who are in urgent want for better connection and better designed products and services. This is a golden opportunity not to be missed.”
Gender blind spots
Despite the fact that the growing female economy is worth more than the emerging markets of China and India put together – twice over – it remains relatively untapped, ignored and underserved, says Brideson.
While hiring a more diverse workforce is a start, “the real challenge is empowering men and women to collectively think differently and look past gender stereotypes and reconstruct the old business practises from research to marketing, in order to uncover how to best serve the customer needs of each gender,” she says.
“Brands will need to change what they have traditionally done, and learn new ways to understand women and how to better meet their needs. And the answer is not just hiring women to sell to women.”
The road towards gender diversity
Diversity without inclusion is superfluous. According to the Salesforce report ‘The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business’, employees are more productive when they feel they belong, are heard and able to be their authentic self at work – and that requires an inclusive work culture. Among those who feel they belong at their company, 73% say they are empowered to perform their best work.
Brideson believes all employees – men and women – should go through gender-intelligence training, so they can better understand gender disruption, differences and dynamics in order to see customers in a gender-intelligent way.
“It’s not a feminist debate, it’s just good business sense to consider the customer differences between men and women,” she says.
“Gender is a powerful segmentation tool that can create growth. Businesses just need to appreciate the value of gender diversity beyond the typical: ‘Have we got enough women on the board?’ checkbox.”
How Bluescope is taking the lead on gender diversity
An organisation making significant inroads towards a more gender diverse workforce is Australian global steel manufacturer BlueScope. Working in a traditionally male-dominated industry, with a traditionally male-dominated workforce, gender diversity has been an enduring challenge, explains BlueScope’s National Manager of Customer Service, Angela Theodore.
“However, if we want to be representative of our customer base and driving profitability for our business, we need a more balanced workforce,” says Theodore. “Gender diversity is a priority, because that's where we have one of the largest gaps.”
In 2016, BlueScope’s workforce was made up of 16% women. At the time, the organisation recognised this wasn’t reflective of the communities it worked in, nor of its customer base, and they needed to take action.
BlueScope introduced sweeping diversity and inclusion initiatives that specifically targeted recruitment, selection, flexible work practices and team culture, helping BlueScope attract and retain a broader range of candidates to what some might see as ‘men’s work’. And the job’s not over.
“We’ve already had some great successes,” says Theodore. “One example is that we’ve successfully employed female crews to operate some of our heavy industrial equipment, which was traditionally operated by men – and they’re delivering positive results, lifting both motivation and productivity.”
Join Bec Brideson and Angela Theodore at Salesforce World Tour to learn more about how diversity can drive high performance in sales, as well as hear some of BlueScope’s specific diversity and inclusion initiatives and successes. Find out more and register.