Delivering the benefits of gender diversity.
The importance of promoting the benefits of more women in decision-making and leadership positions.
Other than complying with the self-evident principle that promoting women in decision-making roles facilitates the much broader goal of achieving substantive gender equality, studies have overwhelmingly shown that increasing women’s participation in leadership positions has significant economic benefits.
The potential benefits are particularly significant in countries where women have traditionally been under-represented in business.
Theory and reality
An overwhelming majority of Europeans claim to support equality between men and women in leadership positions. According to a Eurobarometer Special Survey carried out by the European Commission1, 88% of Europeans agree that: “Given equal competence, women should be equally represented in positions of leadership in companies”.
Three-quarters (75%) of Europeans are in favour of legislation on gender balance on company boards as long as qualifications are taken into account.
Although this survey indicates that people generally realise there are inequalities and expect governments to take action to address the issue, the reality is often vastly different.
Cyprus, for example, is among the bottom three EU countries when it comes to representation of women in decision-making and leadership positions.
According to the latest Gender Equality Index published by the European Institute for Gender Equality EIGE2 only 9.2% of board members in the largest Cypriot companies are women. Women account for less than a quarter of managers in Cyprus (22%), trailing significantly behind the EU average of 35%. On a slightly different note, the gender pay gap in Cyprus is currently at 13.3% and has been steadily declining in recent years. However, this figure can be misleading, as it does not take into account part-time work that is predominantly performed by women.
Benefits of diversity
In the light of these findings, it is particularly important for businesses in countries such as Cyprus to understand the benefits of greater gender diversity.
It has been proven that the presence of women on boards enhances innovation, reduces conflict and produces more effective board development activities. Especially where governance is weak, female directors usually exercise stronger oversight, resulting in a ‘positive, value-relevant impact’ on the company. Thus, a gender-balanced board is more likely to pay more attention to managing and controlling risk.
Women at senior levels can bring diverse perspectives to the strategic agenda, contributing to broader insights into economic behaviour and consumer choices. This can mean that products and services become more responsive to consumer needs and preferences.
Having more women in decision-making positions can also mean better retention of highly skilled staff. Companies that do not actively promote women within their ranks may be losing out on a large talent pool and may not therefore be hiring the best of the best.
Gender blind recruitment and evaluation
Our experience, like many other companies aiming to actively promote gender equality, underlines the importance of adopting a ‘gender blind’ perspective in the recruitment and evaluation process. This means downplaying and de-emphasising gender differences and supposedly male characteristics. This includes emotional stability, results-orientation, directness and being strategic, while focusing more on the individuality and uniqueness of every professional, adopting a gender neutral perspective.
From my experience, a gender blind frame of mind has actively assisted me as a woman in being more confident, more vocal and more assertive.