The Gender Agenda

by:  Julie Lynch

Women are having a bigger effect on our world than ever before.  In recent years, women have taken on serious new leadership positions around the globe and these moves are redefining women’s roles and empowering younger generations of women to step up.  From tech to finance & insurance to retail, there are women who are changing the world.  

The Good:  Women in Leadership

There’s a wealth of research now available – from McKinsey to Credit Suisse,  Reuters to Harvard  – that substantiates the real business advantages of a gender diverse workforce.  The metrics show that gender diversity is creating a competitive edge that can be directly linked to:

  • more customers,
  • increased sales and
  • a higher return on equity and invested capital.

And there’s more.  Companies who have a balanced representation of women and men in senior management roles experience better internal performance in areas such as:

  • increased engagement and retention,
  • enhanced decision making,
  • improved problem solving and
  • greater creativity & innovation.

This in turn leads to enhanced results, competitive advantage, better rates of promotion among women, and an increased ability to attract both female and male talent.

However, gender balance can’t be pursued in isolation.  According to one of McKinsey’s most recent reports, ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform those less diverse.

The Bad:  Gender Agenda Fatigue

It’s no surprise to see the emergence of an evolving body – of women as well as men – declaring an increasing level of fatigue around the ‘gender agenda.’

Be it a rolling of eyes, a shared glance of affirmation, refusal on principal to participate in gender networks, mumbles of reverse sexism, reactions against the notions of gender targets and reporting – the reality is that we are seeing self-professed groups of both genders who are, most politely, claiming to be just a little bit weary of talking about the ways women aren’t treated equally in the workplace.

This group feels increasingly empowered to discount and discredit credible proven research in a way that would in no way be acceptable if applied to race, disability or sexuality.

Now may be the time to refresh our focus on the value of wider diversity, while recognising that the ‘gender agenda’ has arrived and earned a solid chair at the head of the table.

It’s time to challenge the myths about the differences between the way men and women operate in the workplace and their capability to succeed and lead.

It’s time to stop seeing women on stage speaking about gender issues while men are talking about their business strategies.  It’s time to see more women speaking about their leadership philosophies and the industries they lead.

The Ugly:  Risking Stereotypes of Men & Women

Unless we start to see practical changes within businesses, we risk the stereotypes of men and women continuing to exaggerate the differences which can lead to explosive and sometimes dangerous outcomes – in short ‘advancing harmful gender stereotypes in the workplace’.

We need look no further than the Google employee fired for the 10-page anti diversity memo that reinforced damaging perceptions on the neurological differences between men and women in the workplace.

There is no winner in such a scenario – for every individual who robustly decries the contents of the Google missive, there is another who is outraged at the lack of ‘free speech’ and the perceived ‘silencing of opinions’ deemed to be ‘politically incorrect.’

Reinforcing the myths that all men are agentic, and all women are communal, that women who talk about equality and leadership balance at work are man-haters will not create the sort of environment where everyone with the capability can be seen and thrive.

Whether we’re talking about power differences, communication differences, differences in friendship style, or other interests, taking a fresh look at the workplace through the lens of a wider view of diversity will lead to greater individual and organisational success.