As we begin the second decade of the 21st Century, businesses need to make the most of their resources, especially those with a proven track record in boosting performance. That makes now the time for many more women to take on greater leadership roles, especially in the c-suite and boardroom.
As an accountant for the past 38 years, I have long believed that numbers tell a story. For many years, I have seen a steady stream of research whose numbers confirm the impressive contributions made by the relatively few women at the highest levels of leadership in business today. So it only makes sense that more women serving in these roles will lead to greater business performance and economic growth.
Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory organization focused primarily on the advancement of women, invited me to serve on its board a few years ago. I have long been acquainted with Catalyst’s research. Its research findings consistently confirm that those organizations with the most women as senior leaders enjoy rates of return that are greater—often by double-digits—than those with far fewer or no women in their leadership ranks.
That’s what the Gender Dividend is all about. Much like the dividends that public corporations pay to shareholders, the Gender Dividend is a steady benefit that is earned by making wise, balanced investments in developing women as workers and potential leaders, as well as understanding women as consumers and their impact on the economy and the bottom line. Done right, the Gender Dividend should be reflected in increased sales, expanded markets, and recruitment and retention of a key market segment—women.
It is not wishful thinking. As research has consistently proven, the Gender Dividend is a demonstrable fact. But when culture and custom conspire to keep businesses from achieving the greatest returns, investors should take note and vote with their feet. I believe that enlightened investors in search of the greatest returns will vote for those businesses that not only value diversity, but are smart enough to capitalize on it.
Beyond returns in the marketplace for talent and customers, the Gender Dividend can show a payback in the boardroom. As the chairman of Deloitte’s board, I speak often about the ABCs of corporate governance—attitude, behavior, and candor. When present and positive, they help create a boardroom environment that can set ideas into motion and enable people and organizations to move forward productively. Yet it is another element that follows the ABCs—the letter “D” for diverse people and diversity of thought—that enables businesses to enjoy strong governance and develop the best strategic decisions. The diversity of thought provided by women can bring different attitudes and behaviors to the boardroom, as well as fresh candor that can be inspired by a variety of perspectives. Diversity in the boardroom is powerful, and it works.
At the height of the recent recession, Catalyst produced a short video to address the business challenges of a desperate economy. Its voiceover concluded by telling executives that there is an “overlooked yet effective solution to help you make your numbers—and she may be seated right next to you.” I hope that documented research and an open mind will help people understand that such thinking makes perfectly good sense.
Economic growth is one of the quickest ways to unleash transformational change – and with more growth comes more possibilities. In two weeks, the World Economic Forum will convene once again with its mission to improve the state of the world. In the spirit of Davos, let me challenge you, your business, and your nation to intentionally invest in women as business leaders. The women that your investments will enable—as well as the greater returns from the Gender Dividend that it will create—can transform your business, spur your nation’s economy, and improve the state of our world.
Sharon Allen is Chairman of the Board for Deloitte LLP where she leads the board in providing oversight and guidance to the management of the U.S. Firm and its subsidiaries. Frequently honored for her contributions to business and community leadership, Sharon was named to Forbes’ list of “The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World” for four consecutive years.
As used in this post, “Deloitte” means Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries. Please see About Deloitte for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte LLP and its subsidiaries.