Marillyn Hewson, reports from participating in the 2016 Catalyst Awards Conference in New York—an annual gathering of experts on inclusive leadership and promoting women in business.
For a conference about women in business, there were a lot of men in the audience too. The attendees understood that promoting women in business isn’t simply a women’s issue — it’s a business issue.
And the research proves it.
A recent study from McKinsey & Company found that companies that ranked high in gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have better financial returns than their industry average. Promoting more women in the workforce can have a significant impact on the global economy as well.
The United Nations reports that when more women work, economies grow. Their studies show that an increase in the number of women participating in a nation’s labor force results in faster economic growth for that country. Looking ahead, women have the potential to be one of the most significant factors in economic growth around the world.
So if the business case for inclusiveness is clear, what can leaders do to foster a culture were women — and all under-represented demographics — can thrive?
I believe there are three areas leaders should focus on to really make a difference:
First, set the tone and lead by example. Diversity and inclusion is a business priority and employees should see their leaders investing their time in it, just as they would any other business priority. Share best practices across the company, train leaders on inclusive leadership, and reward behaviors that maximize the potential and contributions of all your employees. And validate your efforts with visible metrics, so everyone sees real progress as it occurs. Change starts at the top and employees will emulate their leadership’s example. I shared my views at the conference, which you can watch here.
Second, encourage mentorship and sponsorship. Women can face different challenges than men in the workplace, and it’s important for them to talk with women who understand those challenges — and to hear how someone else found ways to overcome them. Leaders must create opportunities for women to come together to network and connect with one another. And we must remember to “pay it forward” and provide the same support to the next generation of leaders that helped us succeed, which I discuss here.
And third, be visible to inspire the next generation of women leaders. Young women should know that they can achieve anything, and they should have visible role models to show how far they can go. Working with young people, we can build their confidence, their excitement and their passion for the future. Support programs like Girls, Inc. that show students what the workplace really looks like and what female professionals, leaders, and yes, CEOs actually do in their daily jobs. By standing up and being visible, young women can see their potential and pursue their dreams. I shared my thoughts at the conference, which you can see here.
By focusing on these three areas, leaders can make a meaningful difference in advancing an inclusive culture of their organizations.
What else should leaders do to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace?