Harvard: CEOs Need To Prioritize Diversity

diversity

For the naysayer, the urgent precedent of diversity can often feel like forced righteousness. But the distinct reality behind diversity, as we now know from numerous studies and real-life examples, is that it’s beneficial for business. And CEOs in particular need to take notice.

A recent in-depth report from Harvard Business Review revealed the necessity loud-and-clear: in a modern world where “Women make up half the U.S. workforce, drive 80 percent of consumer buying decisions and represent 60 percent of global university graduates,” ignoring its importance isn’t just arrogant—its potentially destructive for companies.

Speaking directly to CEOs, HBR writer Avivah Wittenberg-Cox illuminates three crucial F’s: Facts, Feelings and Framework.

Regarding facts, Wittenberg-Cox notes, “When it comes to gender balance, a lot of people don’t get it, don’t like it, or, frankly, resist it. That’s why you as the CEO need to be well versed at explaining why you think gender balance in your organization is so important.”

In combating the dilemma, she first proposes a list of questions for CEOs. “How (im)balanced is your company? Do you have a recruitment, retention or promotion issue? Is it all three? Do you even know? Are men and women split by level, role, function? What’s the gender split of your customers, users or purchasing decision makers? What about regulators, government contacts, etc.?”

On promotional issues specifically, Wittenberg-Cox highlights the stark differences between how men and women typically move up in companies. Namely, the difference between the “Peter” (men) and “Paula” (women) principles.

“Men typically experience the Peter principle, meaning they are promoted to their level of incompetence, whereas women often experience the Paula principle, meaning they are underpromoted across the board. This is creating situations where many multinationals are skewing female at the bottom without ever affecting the balance at the top, to their great frustration.”

On feelings, she also notes that, again, it’s not enough simply hire women—rather a CEO needs to set a positive tone, focus on inclusion and “always insist on meritocracy.”

And finally, when dealing with the framework of promoting diversity, she writes, “context is everything. Make gender balance a lever to achieving business goals. Period.”

You can read the entire piece from Wittenberg-Cox here, and check out her previously published book Seven Steps to Leading a Gender-Balanced Business today.

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