Is gender equality good for business?
Generally, attempts to answer this question focus on measuring the financial performance, and stock-market performance of companies led by women CEOs or with female directors.
Last week, for example, market index provider MSCI released a study showing that companies with at least 3 board directors or a higher percentage of women on their boards (compared to their country’s average) generated 36.4% higher returns for their shareholders than companies where women were not as well-represented. This analysis was based on a review of 4,000 global companies since 2009.
We’re not surprised to see gender equality correlated with financial success. Past studies (such as this one from Credit Suisse, and another from Catalyst) have shown similar relationships between gender diversity in the senior leadership and financial out-performance.
So if gender equality means financial success, why aren’t there more companies jumping on the bandwagon? We’d venture to guess that part of the reason is simply that the studies show correlation — not causation. Financial performance is easy to measure but it’s a tricky thing to understand, much less find a “formula” for. Many variables go into what makes some companies more successful than others — as mountains of business books demonstrate.
Another reason may simply be that female representation at the upper echelon of a company is not exactly the same thing as “gender equality” at that company. To use an analogy, having an African-American President of the United States doesn’t mean there is racial equality throughout America.
Don’t get us wrong — It’s certainly important to measure gender equality by tracking the number of companies with female CEOs or directors. However, if you believe a company’s financial success depends on having a culture that welcomes and fosters diversity of thought and opinion, a culture of gender equality throughout alllevels of an organization is probably equally important. After all, many critical business decisions are made every day that never make it up to review of the C-suite or director level. The way a digital product is designed, discussions over the way a car’s safety feature is tested, how a new campaign for children’s toys is marketed to households are all decisions initially made at the lower-to-mid levels of a company where diversity and representation of thought are critical.
That’s why we try to measure what all women at an employer think. We ask every woman in the Fairygodboss community whether they think they’re treated fairly and equally to men at work. In analyzing thousands of employee reviews, we’ve found that when women report there is gender equality in their workplace, they also report overall job satisfaction. Since job satisfaction is one predictor of how likely an employee is to remain at an employer — it’s an important measure of employee turn-over and recruitment costs.
In other words, gender equality is certainly good for business in terms of being able to recruit and retain employee talent. Stay tuned for more of our findings about gender equality in the workplace!