Saturday, October 16, 2010

How Change Happens

Change is dared by few, willed by more, and (eventually) tolerated by all.

The end of the conference...

...but the beginning of action steps.

We've heard about the gender gaps, we've seen the research, we know the business case, we've learned what other countries have done to close gender gaps. Now it is up to everyone to make sure that other people know about these gaps--and that we take concrete steps to close them.

What will you do?

Thank you so much to conference chairs Iris Bohnet, Laura Liswood and Saadia Zahidi. Thank you to the Women and Public Policy Program at HKS and to the Council of Women World Leaders staffs. It was a privilege to be a part of the program and to share my thoughts over the past two days. I hope that it was helpful--and more importantly, I hope that you feel galvanized to action.

The First Phase in Diversity is Counting.

And there are 141 countries in which there is no data to date, according to Irene Natividad, Chair of the Corporate Women Directors International and President of the Global Summit of Women.

To use her words, "that is pathetic."

The other steps?

Quotas. Corporate Governance Codes/Stock Exchange/Securities Exchange Commission Initiatives. Making the business case. Advocacy (especially from institutional investors).

And women ought to be in--and taking part in--all of those entities.

Quotas: In Norway, highly disliked (then).

Quotas: (Still) disliked.

But when Norway hit its 40% quota target for women on corporate boards in 2008, according to Elin Hurvenes, founder of the Professional Boards Forum, everybody liked the results.

Bottom line. Action. Results. Isn't this what companies care about?

"Breaking the Glass Ceiling from the Top"

I will state my bias right up front: I worked with Catalyst over the summer and I absolutely consider myself a Catalysta. And so should you.

Ilene Lang, the president and CEO of Catalyst, just shared a small sliver of the research Catalyst is doing that is changing the makeup of organizations and board leadership. And as she says--even though the values-based argument and a person's sense of fair play may be the most important motivating reason for addressing gender gaps-- financial and "bottom line" measures are a good way to help sweep others along.

So here's the bottom line: it just makes good business sense (and that's in a dollars sense of the word). According to Catalyst research, Fortune 500 companies with higher percentages of women on their boards see equity returns 53 percent higher than those companies with the fewest number of women on their boards, as well as 42 percent higher return on sales and 66 percent higher return on investment.

Granted, this is a correlation, not a causation. But given the other compelling reasons--not to mention our current economy--what part of 15.2% F500 board seats held by women makes any sense (or cents) at all?

Dads and Their Daughters.

"Until it hits close to home, and you're coming after me and mine, it's not real."

David Ross, associate professor at Columbia Business School just brought a giant ray of sunshine to the debate we're having today. His (preliminary) research in Denmark has found that if a male CEO has a son, there is no change in the salaries of those around him. Yet, if a male CEO has a daughter, there is an instantaneous rise in the salaries of the female managers around him. His conclusion: if all it takes is that moment of realization, when you realize you want to make the world a more equal place because you now have a living investment in the future, this is a battle we can win.

Love it, and the conference loved it as well.

However...this means that the attitudes towards women are that much more important. This means that the gendercide going on in countries like India and China is that much more horrifying. It raises even more questions about how to tackle gender gaps on a global scale. And in no way does it mean that we can just wait for others to have that "light bulb" moment, that our work is done, or that we--men and women alike--still do not have the responsibility to close the gender gaps in our own lives.

"Filling the pipeline is not enough."

Most likely, the women and men sitting in the conference room right now all know this already, but it bears repeating. Thanks, Barbara Annis, for reminding us.

Organizations, are you paying attention?