Too many companies are failing to attract women to top positions, even though mixed-gender leadership teams deliver greater profits. How can we tackle this challenge?
Here’s a secret: I like to play games on my phone. My favourite? Candy Crush. And it’s not just my favourite. People around the world love it. Especially women. That’s because, in a market where for the most part men build games for men, Candy Crush creator King designed a game that specifically appeals to women. As a result, it has reaped significant commercial rewards - with an estimated daily revenue of over $400,000
Businesses seeking greater gender diversity at leadership level have a lot to learn from King. While many women want to lead, too many businesses fail to understand what motivates women to become leaders. Without that understanding, how will they offer the rewards that encourage women to apply for leadership positions?
Likewise, if businesses’ definition and depiction of ‘great leadership’ doesn’t chime with what women perceive it to be, companies will broadcast messages and build cultures that don't appeal to women.
For more than a decade, Grant Thornton has annually researched levels of female participation in senior business roles. Once again, this year’s findings reveal some difficult home truths: a third of companies have no females in senior leadership positions and overall women hold less than a quarter of senior positions.
Some of the countries that talk most about the gender diversity have made the least headway. As a group, the G7 are among the worst-performing countries – just 22% of senior roles are occupied by women and 39% of companies have no women in senior roles.
What compounds bemusement about this lack of progress is that there is a wealth of research that links superior financial performance with mixed-gender leadership. Analysing the companies listed on the S&P 500, FTSE 100 and India’s CNX 200, Grant Thornton’s own Value of Diversity report illustrates a significant opportunity cost associated with male-only boards: US$655 billion of profit forgone. That’s for just 1,050 companies.
Diversity is good for business and good for growth. So why aren’t more companies creating diverse leadership teams and reaping the rewards diversity affords?
We believe that men are subconsciously moulding the dominant culture and the messages broadcast within companies. That’s hardly surprising when three-quarters of senior business positions are occupied by men and in two-thirds of companies, they are exclusively held by men. The problem is that men typically define leadership differently from women.
For example, when it comes to being a good leader, our research found that more women than men value communication. They also think of communication differently. Whereas male respondents tended to see communication in leadership as broadcasting messages, female respondents placed more importance on listening and dialogue as a crucial aspect of communication for leaders.
We also found surprising differences in what motivates men and women to lead. Perhaps counter-intuitively, more women cite money as a driver than men. Women also point to the recognition of their ability as an important motivator.
This is where companies can look to Candy Crush for inspiration. King did its homework, developing a game that suited the way women want to play. Women have rewarded King in droves through high levels of engagement. Companies can do the same to create a business model that appeals to women, and enables them to flourish and lead.
A new game
As a business leader, how should you respond to this challenge? A good first step would be to read this year’s Women in Business Report: Turning promise into practice. You then need to ask yourself honestly: does the culture of my business encourage female leadership?
As a result of this introspection, you may need to do more to demonstrate the leadership skills women value. For example, if your company values domineering leaders who solve complex problems single-handedly, you will be out of step with what women perceive to be good leadership. Review the attributes your existing leadership team has and consider the message this sends to women, both internally and externally.
Money clearly matters to women so let’s get this conversation out into the open. Women see pay as a demonstration that the business values them and will reward them fairly for their work. However, studies show that women are generally more reluctant about asking for more pay and better positions, and are much less likely than men to initiate negotiations. Companies need to encourage employees to talk freely about pay and train managers to have honest conversations with their staff about this issue.
Improved financial performance makes for a compelling case to increase female participation in senior business positions. Companies need to develop cultures that enable women and motivate them to become leaders. It’s time to learn from Candy Crush. It’s time for companies to up their game.