Well, it isn’t the only thing that is important, but it is one of several interesting conclusions from recent studies. Here is some interesting research about gender imbalance in consulting organisations, and also a comprehensive McKinsey report that looks at global gender inequality. Both are fascinating in that they do not accept that gender bias is entirely due to discrimination, and in the case of the consulting world, providing better treatment to both men and women will improve the outcomes for women.
The first report is insightful for two reasons, firstly because the firm that commissioned the report rejected the results. Secondly because the results go against the established beliefs that actions need to be centred on women to achieve the desired result. They had a very high turnover rate, typical for a mid-sized consulting business, which relentlessly separates out the select employees making their way towards partner status. The jobs involve long hours and frequent travel, and there are intense physical and mental demands on the employees. The firm needed to treat everyone better, because they were constantly losing both women and men because of these expectations.
Men, however on average would stick to it longer because they saw fewer other opportunities. Women just left and found better things to do. Even if they did get to the top, this culture more or less precluded them from being mothers, and given that around 80% of women want to be mothers, the company is effectively excluding itself from 40% of the workforce, and in particular the better-educated and with better qualifications part of the workforce (this was American research).
The second report shows how much the exclusion of women from the workplace costs on a global scale. Truly staggering numbers, around $12 trillion per annum. It should also be noted it isn’t a cause and effect basis, some economic growth is necessary to bring women into the workplace. But again, the report notes that the challenges of being mothers, especially in the least developed countries, is what excludes them from the workforce.
The final piece of all of this is that women who want a career and to be mothers face a double bind. The most important decade of their careers coincides with the time that they are most likely to have children. Combined with this, husbands, considered by most women as a pre-requisite to having children, create more work at home than they contribute, primarily because of the career demands placed upon men. If women take advantage of the company and regulatory policies for a career gap, they find it even harder to catch-up, and the path to a senior role becomes much steeper for them This situation is widespread and makes it even harder for women to have a career and be a mother. Work at both home and in the office is more intensive than for her male colleagues.
There are two competing effects that are in play. The consulting company was actively pushing people out of the company, in pretty much equal ratios. The second effect is that there are compelling forces that draw women away from the corporate world. And once out they are unlikely to return. The consulting company rejected the result that one of the drivers to women staying in and advancing in companies, is better treatment for all employees. Despite some compelling evidence that companies who treat their employees better do better on a long-run basis. (As an example, check out the long-term stock-charts for Wal-Mart and Costco which have two very different compensation models and personnel policies.)
This particular company was treating people badly because they wanted internal competition to be intense. They ignored the external forces, in particular motherhood; women can be pulled into alternative roles which are much more attractive than an aggressive corporate culture. The most successful companies will be the ones that keep the best talent, and to do that they are going to have to make their cultures more attractive for everyone, and most importantly keep women engaged to that culture when they are mothers. The flip side is, to do that they will also have to make it more attractive for men who want to be fathers, and can contribute to household work rather than add to it.
Hat-tip to Nick Hixson for pointing me to the Gender & Work report.
Thank you for reading, please do share your thoughts and comments on how we can address this important challenge.
About: Rob Ward has extensive global experience working in supply chain organisations. He co-founded Cosmapec to help companies and executive teams establish, develop and optimise their supply chains.