March 8, 2017, was labeled A Day Without a Woman. It was initiated to highlight the economic power of women and call attention to the injustices they continue to face. Women were encouraged to take the day off as a form of protest. In the midst of this, I found myself reflecting on the many women who have shaped my journey.
My single mother, who showed me how to persevere even when the odds were stacked against her. The art teacher who showed me that you can manage conflict with grace and creativity. The English teacher who showed me what a sharp and curious intellect looks like. The U.S. Air Force Captain who showed me that compassion and mental toughness are not mutually exclusive. And the many women with whom I work with today who have taught me about managing complexity, communicating clearly, and what it means to be an advocate.
A Day Without a Woman was certainly effective in underscoring the consistent, significant, and vital impact that women have on everyone around them. But there is so much more to the story than a single day of awareness can tell.
Research has proven that companies with gender and ethnic diversity perform up to 35% better financially than companies without. While this is true, it remains that only 16% of senior leaders are women, and that’s in the United States – the statistics get even worse as you go around the globe (12% in the UK, six percent in Brazil). Women continue to be one of the largest pools of untapped labor: globally, 655 million fewer women are economically active than men.
The adverse effect this has on companies (and the global economy) becomes clear when you consider the link between the presence of women in top management teams and the performance of a company. The 2017 Women Matter report from McKinsey looked at 300 companies around the world and found a difference in return on equity of 47% between the companies with the most women on their executive committees and those with none. Going a step further, these companies had better results in key areas of organizational performance, such as accountability, direction, work environment, and employee motivation.
These results, consistent with my own experiences in business, are evidence that women consistently demonstrate certain characteristics that are beneficial to organizational success. Professional development, expressing expectations, rewarding success, role-modeling, inspiration, and participative decision making are all qualities that women possess more often and have been shown to strengthen overall business performance.
It’s time for men to become allies and advocates of female colleagues. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because everyone’s outcomes are better when we do. We must finally acknowledge the concrete value that diversity and inclusiveness bring to a team and to an organization. With that value as a foundation, the case for female leadership becomes obvious, permitting real progress towards closing the gender gap and providing women with equal career-growth opportunities.
Take a moment to think about the impact we could have if every man took the time to encourage a woman to apply for that new job, speak up in an executive meeting, or generally reassure them of their capabilities and value on a regular basis. As you consider that, understand that the historical pattern of discrimination against women in the workplace has perpetuated a lack of self-confidence compared with their male peers. My first-hand experience as a leader has taught me that it’s not just enough to ensure that women have an equal shot at new opportunities. I actively need to help them overcome a pattern of behavior that has been handed down over generations so that they can confidently pursue those opportunities.
Truly implementing this change will require more than talking – it will take action – and I’m very proud to be part of an organization that is championing this type of societal change. Just this past October at the SAP Hybris Global Summit in Barcelona, a panel of my female colleagues discussed what it means to be a woman in the technology industry specifically, as well as their advice for how women can take action to gradually make progress.
The insight they shared is valuable. Among the steps they saw as making the biggest impact: women empowering other women, teaching confidence to girls at a young age, building female relationships through personal connection, and trusting your own instincts. With these shared values in mind, we can all do our part to empower and build confidence in the women we care about. My colleague Shalini Mitha noted that feelings of inferiority are often replaced with confidence once women feel empowered.
It will take time and concerted effort, but it is my hope that as we move into the new year, every person, whether a leader or individual contributor, will renew their efforts to create an environment that values all genders equally. Let’s commit to work together to support our female colleagues and understand that when they thrive, everyone wins.
Watch the panel on female empowerment led by women warriors in technology here.