Anyone up for an extra $12 trillion? That’s how much additional productivity can be squeezed out of the global economy simply by creating more gender-diverse workforces, according to this McKinsey & Company report.

Let me say that again: $12 trillion added to global growth. Just by increasing gender diversity in the workplace.

So what does this mean for c-suite and, in particular, HR leaders? The case for increasing gender diversity is about more than just equal opportunity. A diverse workplace makes for competitive advantage and bottom-line financial sense. Consider this: A 2014 Gallup study of more than 800 business units from two very large companies in two different industries found that gender-diverse business units have 14% higher average revenue and 19% higher average quarterly net profit than less-diverse units.

Similarly, MSCI Inc. conducted a five-year study of U.S. company performance from 2011-2016 and found that those with at least three women on the board had 45% higher earnings per share compared to companies with no women directors.

Can this message be any louder or clearer? Keep reading!

Women make up half the population and, therefore, half of global talent. And in the U.S., at least, they’re the better educated half. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, women will earn 57.6% of all bachelor’s degrees in the 2018-2019 school year, 58.4% of master’s degrees and 51.7% of doctorates. Naturally, a recent analysis of corporate filings found that the women who are earning seats in corporate boardrooms have more qualifications and a wider skill-set than their male counterparts.

So it’s no wonder the World Economic Forum says, “ensuring the full development and appropriate deployment of half the world’s talent pool has a vast bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide.” It may not be wise for organizations to ignore half – or more – of the potential workforce, and still expect to remain competitive.

While it’s clear that superior financial performance, alone, is the business world’s most powerful driver for appointing woman to positions of corporate power and influence, many still must learn that gender diversity isn’t “magic.” You can’t just add women to the team and immediately expect better results. How can businesses be sure to reap the benefits of gender diversity? Like building a cross-cultural workplace, creating a successful gender-diverse workplace is a reshaping process that needs to be championed.

Why Gender Diversity Matters

According to McKinsey’s Women Matter 2016 report, over 75% of CEOs consider gender equality to be a top business priority. But there’s a disconnect. Even though the majority of CEOs recognize the importance of gender diversity, and it’s been established that boards with at least three women directors are almost 50% more profitable than those without, women still make up less than 20% of executive-committee members and corporate board members overall!

As a whole, business has been pretty slow on the uptake. Computing, architecture and engineering still tend to be male dominated, and not just by a little bit – in 2017, 75% of professionals in the computer and mathematics field and 84% of architects and engineers were men. The tech industry has practically become the poster child for corporate misogyny in the past five years.

But adding one or two women to a large male-dominated group won’t cut it. Successful gender-diverse operations require true balance. In Michael Moore’s 2015 documentary, Where to Invade Next, the former director of Iceland’s Chamber of Commerce makes this point: “one [woman] is a token, and two is a minority.” But when you have at least three women in the board room, “that’s when culture starts changing…it all of a sudden changes the group dynamics. It changes how dialogue is taken, what is discussed, and it’s been well shown that that goes beyond the balance sheet when you have more women around the table.”

It’s no surprise the only bank standing after Iceland’s banking collapse was women-run!

To top it off, organizations with a reputation for being a good place for diverse groups to work – gender or otherwise – find it easier to recruit top talent, saving time and money in the long run. After all, who doesn’t want to work with the best of the best?

Unlocking the Benefits of Gender Diversity

Many organizations fail to create successful gender-diversity programs. Sometimes, the efforts backfire by introducing more bias in the workplace. The key is to embark on a genuine journey. Filling a quota just won’t do. Bare-bones quotas are ineffective because they can negatively affect relationships between coworkers, instill a sense of distrust, and even end up overlooking the best fit for the position. Instead, create a hiring strategy that does not reduce or ignore merit.

Similarly, a “blanket” diversity and inclusion policy isn’t likely to achieve results. Lack of focus and detail forgoes a crucial aspect of personalization and fails to promote an open, supportive work environment. Leaders must take care in implementing a diversity strategy. It’s worth taking note of business sections and units that have less gender diversity – and this doesn’t only mean adding more women to male dominated teams. Female dominated teams can benefit from the addition of males, too. Iceland, for example, has a government rule requiring large businesses to be either at least 40% women or at least 40% men.

Don’t talk the talk if you’re not willing to walk the walk. Leaders can, according to Gallup, “unleash the power of diversity by enabling employees to turn their differences in thought, behaviors, skills, knowledge, and talent into innovative ideas and practices that can drive a company forward.” But this requires managers to lead by example, hold themselves and others accountable for diversity measures, and create an overall company culture that catalyzes comfort by being inclusive, open, supportive, and trusting.

Creating an open culture is a process. Ultimately, businesses need a comprehensive transformation program that doesn’t just work to reduce bias, but puts thoughts and ideas into action, bolstering engagement levels and boosting financial success.

Gender diversity is more than just an equal rights issue. It’s an economic issue. Gender-diverse workforces are more inclusive, catalyze higher engagement, and undoubtedly increase economic performance – enhancing the entire organization from workers to customers to other stakeholders, as well as prospective employees.

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