WHY DIVERSITY MATTERS: A proven way to build sustainable growth in your business

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WHY DIVERSITY MATTERS: A proven way to build sustainable growth in your business

The competitive edge in a post-crisis world; Female Leaders 

After the 2007/2008 financial crash, McKinsey found those leadership behaviours more frequently adopted by female leaders were critical to navigating the challenges of a post-crisis world. A report by Right Management entitled When Women Lead, Businesses Do Better found that companies with female directors perform better and experience higher levels of growth.  

The business case could not be clearer. Having females at the top table: 

  • Is more than just the right thing to do - your business gains the benefits of being diverse by design  
  • Improves the competitiveness and the performance of your business 
  • Increases the financial value of your business 


Diversity in leadership is however a complex and emotive subject, so what action can leaders of SME’s take to improve the level of gender diversity at their top table?  

Danielle Thompson, a friend and connection of Zentano, has extensive experience in the areas of culture, leadership and diversity in the corporate sector. After working with some of the biggest brands in the world, she has a passion for transferring knowledge, learning and experience from the corporate world to benefit SME’s.  

In this blog, Danielle shares her experience and examines how many corporate organisations have come a long way in increasing the numbers of women in leadership and how these same approaches can be adopted by SME’s. The first question we asked Danielle was…  


Why are women not consistently at the top table?  

In the world of economic uncertainty and social change, if you are considering how you can ‘build back better’ then understanding what could be holding women back in your organisation is a good place to start.  

Here, I summarise my experience of common reasons why women are not in senior positions.  


Pipeline of female leaders  

If diversity has not been consciously reviewed or actioned then it is likely that there will be practices in place which have unintended consequences for attracting, developing and promoting female talent.  

For example, advocating that leaders should have worked in the field or have extensive technical or commercial experience. These factors will generally favour male over female appointments. One company I worked with insisted that senior appointees had extensive sales experience. As sales had always been male dominated in their industry, this naturally meant fewer women were ‘eligible’ for promotion. Simply relaxing that one stipulation opened up a huge pool of talent previously not considered.  


Society expectations  

It is generally still the case that society expects women to have primary caregiving responsibilities. Regardless of personal circumstances or preferences, this expectation does mean that sacrifices at work will often have to be made to look after children or relatives. This sacrifice is usually made by women. If not addressed, then applying ‘standard’ working hours or expectations will generally impact women more than men.  

Until there is genuine equality in society and expectations around issues such as caregiving, then the workplace has a role to play in equalising these inequalities.  


Accepted view of what a ‘leader’ is 

As researched by Harvard Business Review, there is often an accepted perception of what makes a leader. This model is crafted predominantly by the leaders that have been and gone before (this is known as Second Generation Gender Bias). This phenomenon can, therefore, enforce traditional styles of leadership such as autocratic and authoritarian styles which are often dominant in traditionally ‘male’ characteristics. Women who don’t display these characteristics are therefore not considered leadership material. This is in spite of study after study proving that ‘female’ characteristics are more likely to create higher business performance and growth.  


Cultural norms 

Thankfully, in most industries, the ‘boys club’ is a thing of the past. Male-dominated cultural norms, however, do still linger.  They are usually unconscious and very rarely on purpose, but they do impact on the ability for women to perform.  

Common occurrences such as ‘have you got a minute?’ conversations as an employee is leaving for the day, using sports analogies in company updates and the tradition of going to the pub on a Friday. On their own, they are hardly noticeable but collectively they produce an environment with a preference for male-dominated cultural norms which discourage inclusion even when diversity has been achieved.  


Women in Leadership and Connected Leadership 

The benefits that female leaders bring to the table as outlined by McKinsey, closely align with many of the benefits within Zentano’s Connected Leadership model: 

  • They are inspirational and visionary 
  • They collaborate and share power 
  • They drive continual improvement and growth 
  • They make stuff happen and hold people to account 
  • They have an adaptive and agile mindset 


Many of the skills needed to realise these benefits are traditionally dismissed or seen as “soft” and under autocratic and authoritarian leadership styles have been deemed less important. But the tides are turning as we fight our way through economic uncertainty, social change and a digital revolution, not to mention a global pandemic! Authoritarian and autocratic leadership is outdated, people are starting to recognise and appreciate the importance of so called “soft” skills in leading us through a post-crisis world. 

Recognising the importance of these skills and the value female leaders can bring to the table is a first small step towards increasing the diversity of SME leadership. 

In next week’s blog, Danielle will be sharing her top suggestions on how SMEs can increase their leadership gender diversity.  


“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Vernā Myers, Diversity Advocate