Gender diversity in the workforce – particularly at management and executive level – has received a lot of press over the last couple of years, thanks in part to the phenomenal success of Sheryl Sandberg’s excellent book, Lean In.
As both an HR type with a focus on workplace diversity, and a working mother, I of course dutifully read the book and thought it raised some great points.
But I was curious to know who else was actually reading it. A quick Google search for ‘Lean In reviews’ revealed that in all the major US publications, the reviewers were women. A scan of reviews over on Amazon yielded the same results, although I can’t be sure of the gender of several reviewers, given the preponderance of weird avatars (‘Wookie’, I’m looking at you; whoever you are).
This begs the question: Did any men actually read the book?
You might be wondering why that even interests me. Please, allow me to explain.
As Sheryl herself says - and as the massive amount of data available confirms - the blunt truth is that men still rule the world. In every country on this planet, men hold the vast majority of leadership positions in business. So while women reading books about the need to ‘lean in’ might be opening up the conversation; we need all leaders - male and female - to take a serious interest in workforce diversity.
Let’s take all the emotional aspects out of the gender equality discussion for just a minute. The reality is that diversity drives business results.
That’s not just fluff. There is a huge amount of research to support this idea. A recent Gallup study of over 800 businesses showed that the most gender-diverse businesses had 14% higher average comparable revenue than the least gender-diverse businesses.
There are a bunch of reasons why this is. Research tells us diversity spurs innovation - a University of Chicago study showed people with more diverse sources of information consistently generate better ideas. Diversity also promotes collaboration and commitment, which are both important factors in employee engagement - and we all know (or should know) that employee engagement has a direct impact on the bottom line of any business.
I believe a big part of the reason leaders aren’t talking about diversity is that they don’t understand the incredible impact it can have on their business. Equality in the workplace is not just about ticking some HR box; it’s about developing an innovative, engaged workforce that reflects the real world you’re operating in, and that will take your business to the next level.
The evidence is irrefutable: It simply makes good business sense to strive for workforce diversity. Your challenge as a leader, male or female, is how to make that a reality in your business. In my opinion, Sheryl does a great job at outlining ways we can all do this, but if men aren't reading the book or taking the topic seriously, then there’s no way we’re going to see real change any time soon.
So talk about it! The best starting point for ideas is close at hand. Get to know and understand your team – what challenges do they face, how can you help them? The changes don’t have to be big or grand, but talk to any women in your team and I bet you’ll hear that some change is needed.
Gender diversity’s good for the ladies, sure. But it’s also good for business.
What can you do today to ensure your business is more diverse tomorrow?