Another recent study found that female leaders bested their male peers on traits such as empathy, influence and conflict management, and even have a slight edge when it comes to self-awareness. And 360 evaluations discovered that women are rated higher in 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership.
This complements the focus of my research, which focuses on positive return beyond shareholder return. While clearly we live in a world where shareholder return is still the primary metric of corporate success, we know in this community that there is more.
We know that companies also need to be returning positively on environmental, social and governance (ESG). In a study that I conducted, Women Create a Sustainable Future, I investigated the correlation between having even one women on a board and improved ESG performance among 1200 Fortune companies. Indeed I found correlation between all three. Most statistically significant was environmental performance: reduction in packaging, increased investment in alternative energy, reduced CO2 emissions, and reduced water waste.
Second most statistically correlated was social performance: investment in healthcare access for workers throughout the supply chain, improved health and nutrition profiles of product offerings, and better talent management. And finally, there proved to be a correlation as well with governance: less fraud, corruption and misreporting of numbers. In short, fewer CEOs being carted off in handcuffs, period.
So, if appointing women to top tiers of leadership makes sense for shareholders and the rest of the world’s stakeholders, what is the hold-up? I have a few suggestions herein. We currently view the job description for board members far too narrowly by positing that an eligible appointee has to be or have been a CEO or investor.
We need to far expand this search criterion: Why not experts in talent management, brand, and improving society and the environment? While I used to be vehemently anti-quota, I have watched quotas work extremely successfully via Title IX in intercollegiate sports and access to higher education, and in countries such as Norway.
I think quotas are necessary simply to get women to the first door on entry, and once we are there, we will pass through subsequent doors based on competency. Perhaps most importantly is the complete lack of awareness of the snail-paced slow progress of women into leadership, as well as the business case for supporting this progress. To that end, please share this article with everyone you know. We must keep this conversation and data front and center. As Hilary Clinton said, “Women are the most underutilized resource on this planet.” Enough said.
Women in Leadership: Good for Us All
While this all sounds great on paper, I would caution that women can be every bit as unethical as men, and replacing ethical men with unethical women just to meet a quota isn’t going to help anything. Also, note that the article admits that the most statistically significant “improvements” where in criteria that only some people care about. Reducing packaging and water waste is great, but investing in “alternative” energy and reducing CO2 emissions are politically correct nonsense. I would not use such criteria to make business decisions. Deliberately paying more for “alternative” energy means the company has less money to spend on other things….like more employees.
It’s a interesting article, but the concepts would have to be applied thoughtfully.