Why Business Needs WomenSeptember 13, 2013
Back in the mid-1990s, when I was becoming more aware of the issues that women in business face, I learned a very important lesson from a young woman at the firm where I was then a partner. I was leading a team tasked with building a mentoring and sponsorship program for our women, and our team was grappling with whether the program should be for women only or for all of our people (many argued that our men needed mentoring too).
The lesson my colleague taught me was the importance of perspective. She simply said to the group, “Look at the firm from my point of view as a 23-year-old woman. All the corner offices are occupied by men, as is almost every window office. Then ask yourself: if you were me, would this seem like the right environment for you?”
Ultimately, her perspective carried the day and we built what became a key program for women. On a personal note, by inviting me to see things from her vantage point, she converted me to the cause of gender equity in the workplace.
Throughout my tenure as CEO of EY and years of service on Catalyst’s Board of Directors, I have had the chance to speak with many companies and individuals about the importance of diversity and inclusion to business success. In my experience, those companies that are making progress—none have fully achieved equality—understand that developing inclusive leadership can’t be viewed as just the right or the fair thing to do. It has to be viewed by the organization’s leaders and the majority of its people as the smart thing to do…and the only way to ensure continued success and longevity.
Why is inclusive leadership the only way to win in the long term? Because, thanks to rapidly changing demographics, no organization can count on winning in the future by relying on the same talent pool that helped it win in the past. Going forward, 70-75% of every organization’s customers and employees will not be white men. Yet at most companies, over 80% of the executive leadership and board directors are white men. This is not a winning formula for future success.
In order to convince your organization to embrace a culture of truly inclusive leadership, it’s crucial to couple a deep understanding of the big picture with whichever company-specific cases will bring these issues closer to home. That’s when the hard work begins: putting effective programs in place to support the new culture, ensuring that unconscious bias is properly understood and consistently rooted out, and holding senior leaders accountable for real, measurable progress. Good leaders don’t just talk about inclusive leadership. They get results.
Jim Turley is a retired Chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young and Honorary Director and former Chair of Catalyst’s Board of Directors.