Blogspot: if gender diversity is good for business, why not for all walks of life by Eamonn Sinnott

Intel Ireland General Manager Eamonn Sinnott had the opportunity to write an opinion piece for the Sunday Independent this week to start their series “One Good Idea”. Eamonn wrote on the opportunity for Ireland should it embrace gender diversity in all walks of life;

One Good Idea – if gender diversity is good for business, why not for all walks of life

The Ireland we know and love is evolving rapidly. Many aspects of our culture are transforming as we experience a vibrant political landscape, a regenerated economy and a dynamic society that is readying itself for an upcoming generation of tech savvy post–millennials. 

As a small open economy we must compete in an increasingly diverse global marketplace while positioning ourselves as the destination of choice for inward investment from across the globe. In this context we should examine every opportunity to carve out an advantage to help Ireland succeed and based on my experience, I believe that embracing gender diversity, in all walks of life, is an important means to that end.

The landscape in which businesses compete today is one of increased diversity and dynamism where the reality is that women are key consumers. It’s well understood that 80% of global consumer spending decisions are made by women which equates to some approximately $20 trillion of spending. These numbers continue to rise and are a significant lever of transformation in the marketplace of the 21st Century. This of course has implications for the way that companies define their consumer and the “user experience” of that consumer.

It has been proven through research by the likes of Gallup that when an organisation’s employee base mirrors the market that it serves then it will be better positioned to gain an insight into what products and services that their customers in that market want.

Many studies (e.g. 2011 study by the Harvard Business Review) have confirmed that gender balanced teams demonstrate higher collective intelligence, compared to homogenous teams. The fact that gender balanced teams perform better is not because one gender is better than another, but rather each bring something different to the table that allows businesses to operate more effectively. Different characteristics brought by both genders enhance productivity and a combination of different perspectives, styles and characteristics reduces group think and in turn drives innovation and creativity. In a time when business competitiveness can largely be attributed to the talent of its people it is crucial to be able to cultivate and harness this creativity and innovation. Considering the benefit of a balanced perspective only serves to further emphasise how it makes little sense for so few females to hold decision making authority in organisations.

Perhaps the most striking fact is that improved gender diversity equates to superior financial performance for companies. Here are some examples: A Fortune 500 study revealed that companies with the highest percentile of women on their boards outperformed those in the lowest percentile by 42% higher return on sales (Catalyst, 2007). For every percentage increase in the rate of gender diversity there was an increase in sales revenues of approx. 3 % (Herring, 2009). Companies with greater gender diversity in top positions achieved stock price growth of 64% relative to an average of 47% (McKinsey, 2007). Gender balance is something which undeniably has the potential to boost the bottom line.

As a father to a son and two daughters, gender in particular has become a very resonate aspect of diversity for me. The reality is that today as young people growing up and being educated in Ireland they largely have the same, equal opportunities available to them and are immersed in an environment where females equally flourish and in fact often outperform their male counterparts. I can’t help but ask if we are adequately focusing on how these educational achievements are carried through to the workplace and to address why it is that women are more likely to leave the workforce and more likely to be confined to certain sectors, occupations and levels?

It is little over 40 years since this country removed the marriage bar paving the way for employment equality and towards an Ireland that didn’t discriminate on the grounds of gender or marital status. At that time only 27% of the Irish workforce was female, a number that has risen significantly to more than 46% today. Whilst much progress is being made there are still many areas in which we lag behind, for instance just one in ten directors of Irish publically listed companies are women (European Commission, 2013), a statistic which is only lower in one other European country and which sees us lag far behind the likes of the UK where more than 22% of directors of publically companies are female.

My own experience in a company that thrives on a foundation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines (STEM), has given me a first-hand experience of the disparity that exists in these areas. Why is it that we cannot translate the passion and capability for STEM disciplines that exists in equal measure in school days to careers in the world of work that appeal to women in the same number?

If, like me, you are convinced that embracing gender diversity underpins considerable business opportunity then why not embrace the same principle for Ireland and carry it through to every aspect of our society.

Ireland, throughout our history been home to some of the brightest minds and most brilliant innovators – many of whom were women. You need look no further than the groundbreaking scientific contributions of Dorothy Stopford Price, the political determination of Countess Markievicz and the remarkable achievements of first Irish female president Mary Robinson to appreciate some of the exceptional people that have called Ireland their home. 

I believe that Ireland should seize the opportunity now to encourage the next generation of exceptional women to take their place in full measure in all aspects of Irish society, if and wherever they so choose. 

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