Inequality could be putting your business at a disadvantage at a time when winning the innovation game is more important than ever. This makes equality a greater business advantage than ever.

It would be easy to be disheartened by the World Economic Forum’s latest report on gender equality. At the current rate of change, it will take 108 years to close the Global Gender Gap, based on the indexes of economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. With women only making up 34% of managers globally, the ever-persistent glass ceiling makes the economic opportunity gap the most dire. It is expected to take more than 200 years to close completely. 

And yet, as I looked around the room at the NZ CXO Council Conference I spoke at earlier this year, it was impossible not to be encouraged by the actions of attendees like Skycity’s Liza McNally, Paymark’s Maxine Elliott and ally Tony Snushall from Inzone Industries – champions for change who are making real progress by creating diverse workplaces where equality is the number one priority. 

I included the WEF stats in my presentation not to discourage, but to inspire and bring awareness. When it comes to inclusion and equality, we are not done. There is a challenge to be met, so now is not the time to take our feet off the pedal.

At Salesforce, we prioritise equality because it’s the right thing to do. The reality is though, equality makes business sense too.
 

Your customers expect innovation

 

The pressure on businesses to constantly innovate has never been greater. Our research shows that 40% of customers will pay more for products that are first to market and 68% of customers expect the rate of innovation from companies to accelerate. Seventy five percent expect companies to use new technologies to create better experiences. 

One of the most effective ways of meeting customers’ demand for innovation and driving business success is to make equality central to your business. There are two aspects to gender equality in the workplace: equality of representation, and equality of time, space and attention given to a diverse range of voices. 
 

"At the current rate of change, it will take 108 years to close the Global Gender Gap and more than 200 years to close the economic opportunity gap."

 

The facts speak for themselves. McKinsey research found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability, whereas companies with a low representation of women and other diverse groups were 29% more likely to underperform on profitability.

Another study, back in 2012, showed that women’s representation in senior management improved organisational performance in companies focusing on innovation, with the presence of a woman in senior management creating some $US44 million extra market value for the firm.

Further research found that companies with diverse workforces are 70% more likely to capture new markets and 75% more likely to get innovative ideas to market.

Our own research has shown that women are 42% more likely to say an innovative mindset is the most important quality for running a successful business. There is no question that teams in which equality is a priority foster a sense of belonging and psychological safety that lends itself to a productive and creative mindset. As Salesforce Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist Tiffani Bova has said, customers are a diverse bunch and the businesses that reflect that diversity in their own workforce are much more connected to their customers’ needs and wants.
 

"Where equality is a measurable component of a company’s success, when it is afforded the resources of a department and a dedicated staff, then it can flourish, and fast."

 

For this reason, it’s so worrying that only 22% of AI professionals globally are female. In arguably the most exciting and impactful area of innovation today, women are underrepresented. The implication is that this crucial technology is being developed without the inclusiveness that diverse talent brings to the table. There are more than 300 Australian startups working in AI and, if there were ever scope for one of them to have a competitive advantage, this is it. 
 

It’s business, but we need to make it personal

 

While many businesses do much to foster and implement a culture where equality thrives, the ones I admire most don’t depend on staff volunteering their own time and resources to create these cultures – they have intentionally built this into their operational framework. 

Where equality is a measurable component of a company’s success, when it is afforded the resources of a department and a dedicated staff, then it can flourish, and fast. Where equality depends purely on goodwill, where it’s paid lip service, and where it depends on the energy of a few advocates, any progress that is achieved tends to be incremental and peripheral to the business’s narrative. 

Both the business case and the moral imperative for equality must be recognised and valued by leadership. And if there is a failure of behaviour, the workplace culture must be one in which that failure can be called out and addressed. 

I saw an example of this recently. When a man in a meeting called a female senior manager ‘honey’, one of my male colleagues called him on it. I spoke to my colleague about this later – he told me he felt empowered by our workplace culture to not let unacceptable behaviour slide, and he felt he must set an example. 

Without action and transparency, equality will stall and, with it, innovation. So, with those WEF statistics in mind, let’s get the pedal to the metal and meet the challenge of the equality gap head on.

Using our own guided learning platform — Trailhead — we’ve created a range of Equality enablement modules, check out this Trailmix that discusses the value and methods of cultivating diversity, equality & inclusivity in the workplace.

Main image: flickr/roliathBrickworx