Mission critical: why gender diversity must be part of your strategy to meet disruption

Randy Miller

Randy Miller,

EY Global Automotive & Transportation Leader & Global Diversity & Inclusiveness Champion

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As advancing technology disrupts all industries, a balanced leadership team is essential to navigating change. Here are five steps all business leaders can take

Woman talking in business meeting

What are the big disruptive trends shaking up your industry? In life sciences, genomic sequencing is changing how medicines are developed. Robotics are transforming manufacturing. In power and utilities, energy storage and distributed generation are forcing a rethink of the industry’s entire operating model. The automotive industry, where I’ve worked for much of my career, is bracing for the fast approaching reality of driverless cars.

Whatever your industry, wherever your business, change driven by technology and customer demands is transforming how you work, how you grow, how you generate revenue and how you engage with your customers. But as boardrooms around the world develop strategies to successfully adapt to these trends, are they missing one critical element?

Different voices in the boardroom

The changes taking place in our industries today are unlike those ever seen before. They won’t be mastered through “business as usual.” New ideas, creative approaches and fresh perspectives are demanded. These can only come from hearing different voices in the conversations around our boardroom tables. We need to hear from people with a variety of work and life experiences, cultures and backgrounds. And we certainly need to hear from more women.

Gender diverse leadership is closely linked to an organization’s ability to innovate and to generate profits. The evidence is clear. More women in senior roles helps a business innovate and perform better. In this way, improving gender diversity must be a central platform of any business’s strategy to navigate disruption.

But no industry is anywhere near achieving gender parity – the World Economic Forum predicts it will take another 117 years – and a recent EY report reveals that five disconnects are holding back diversity in business. If we are ignoring some of our best talent, how can we expect to perform at our best?

Five steps all business leaders can take

Current diversity statistics are disappointing. They are also an opportunity. We can change this. So many of the issues impacting our businesses, such as economic and political instability, are beyond our control but gender diversity is directly influenced by each one of us as business leaders and as individuals. By making a personal commitment to diversity and by championing the issue as a business priority to our Boards and senior leadership teams, we can shift the needle on this issue.

Female geologist with colleague studying graphical display

In our report, we’ve identified a range of recommended actions to close the gender gap. Some of the most critical steps are below – let’s challenge ourselves to take these now:

  • Own the problem: The facts tell us that gender diversity enhances our ability to navigate disruption and leads to better business performance. The facts tell us we are nowhere close to gender diversity. It’s time to face the facts and accept that our lack of gender diversity is a critical business problem. Solving it must move to your boardroom agenda now.
  • Measure your progress: Would you measure your profit and loss through hearsay and casual observations? Treat gender diversity as the business-critical issue it is by using analytics and formal metrics to measure women at each level of your organization, the gender pay gap and how unconscious bias influences how people are hired and promoted.
  • Create a pipeline: Accelerating women into leadership will take more than good intentions. Put in place programs that identify, nurture and promote your best female talent. Ask women what their biggest barriers to career development are and take steps to break them down.
  • Champion women and diversity: Play your part. Most of us agree that mentoring and sponsoring are strong career enablers and many business leaders make a commitment to do so. But do you unconsciously seek out mentees that are similar to you - male? Challenge yourself to consider female candidates and encourage others to broaden their sphere of influence. Commit to championing gender diversity – this is an opportunity to create your own personal legacy.
  • Adopt best practice: In our research, we saw pockets of good practice from companies accelerating gender diversity. We also found that the banking sector led other industries in recognizing it must improve levels of gender diversity, using formal metrics to measure progress and implementing training and support programs specifically designed to develop female leaders. What practices from other organizations could you adopt? Challenge your business to become an industry leader in diversity – and reap the competitive advantage.

We have the power

None of us can stop disruption from changing the industries in which we operate. But each of us has the power to improve gender diversity, which is proven to help our organizations innovate and perform at their best. But the pace of disruption is quickening – we must act now or it will be too late to harness the benefits of a more balanced leadership team. It’s time to make gender diversity a business priority and a central plank of our strategies to successfully meet disruptive trends.

 

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