This year has proven to be complicated for business leaders, including female entrepreneurs, across the nation. While businesses are making strides toward increasing gender diversity at the executive level, research shows women are still not equally represented as decision-makers in U.S. companies.
The ongoing lack of female executives not only harms the women who are overlooked for these positions, but it also impacts the innovative potential of the businesses they serve. Women are essential to company innovation, and when given a voice in key decisions, they help their team succeed.
Company leaders who include women in the conversation are more innovative and see better results. According to the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), companies that target female consumers can improve their likelihood of success by 144 percent by tapping even one female employee. The same CTI study found that a “speak-up” culture, where all employees are encouraged to share their opinions, is crucial to unlocking women’s insights.
It seems obvious companies targeting female consumers should harness female insight for best results, but we continue to see a lack of gender diversity in C-suite and executive-level conversations across most industries. Despite women holding nearly 52 percent of corporate jobs in America reports by the Center for American Progress show only 14.6 percent of executive office positions are held by women.
I have been in the corporate business environment for nearly 40 years and have witnessed firsthand the positive impact a female voice in the C-suite can have on a company’s success. Companies with more gender diversity see higher returns on equity, higher operating results and stronger stock price growth. Companies that do not have women in executive positions are leaving a large pool of talent untapped to the detriment of their businesses.
As CEO of the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), I work closely with female business leaders who are making a serious impact on their companies and their communities. Through our efforts to diversify the supply chain and workplace, the WBDC has learned important strategies that companies can utilize to give female business owners and employees an equal role in the conversation.
To ensure you are utilizing the innovative potential of your female employees, you must first ensure your company culture encourages all employees to share their opinion. According to the Harvard Business Review, leaders who make sure women get equal “airtime” in the office are 89 percent more likely than non-inclusive leaders to unleash women’s innovative potential.
Encouraging female employees to share their opinion is not enough. You must make sure you value that opinion. Be attentive as they share their thoughts and ideas, and when an idea could benefit the larger team, make sure to share it in group meetings and give credit where credit is due. Give employees ownership over their ideas and they will feel more confident in their ability to contribute to the team.
Even when you disagree with an employee’s idea or opinion, open communication ensures that you are helping your employees learn and grow. Providing constructive feedback on why you disagree or cannot act on their idea at that time will help them become better professionals. It will also hold you accountable for providing a practical reason why you are passing on an employee idea and ensure underlying gender biases are not the root of your disagreement.
One simple way to track your company’s gender diversity progress is to measure the diversity of your C-suite and make sure it represents your entire company. If 52 percent of corporate employees are women, then at least 50 percent—not 14.6 percent—of executive positions should be held by women. Take steps necessary to guarantee your hiring and promotion practices are not unfairly discriminating against women. You may be surprised by the positive impact these changes can have on your business.
The WBDC envisions a diverse marketplace where all business owners and leaders compete and succeed equally. We help individuals empower themselves within their industry. In the nine-state region we serve, the WBDC provides business coaching, capital lending, business curriculum, seminars and countless other resources to ensure women, minority and veteran business owners and leaders can succeed through every lifecycle of their business.
However, to make certain that the innovative ideas of female business owners and employees are integrated into companies across America, businesses must also take active steps to empower their female employees and make sure they have a voice. It’s time we recognize that when women succeed in the workplace and marketplace, we all succeed.