What's Ahead

Gender Diversity and Innovation

How many of you have thought about the value add of gender diversity to innovation, or have thought about the phrases “gender diversity” and “innovation” in the same context?

Diversity in the workplace and a “genderless” environment are areas that companies are looking into. Not simply because they are nice buzz words to have but for the fact that there is untapped potential in having a diverse workforce working together for the greater benefit of the industry. The shades of differing perspectives that are brought into the business mix by gender diversity just makes it an imperative.

As innovation tops the strategic agenda of companies across the world, people—diverse in gender, ready for action, and working synergistically in teams—form the core that would lead to the realization of this strategy.

A recent in-depth survey and analysis by Lehman Brothers Center for Women in Business and the London Business School substantiate the impact of gender diversity on innovation. Some of the interesting findings from their survey and analysis are:

  • It appears that, in work, men and women are remarkably similar in their attitudes and aspirations, contrary to much talk in the popular press about the differences between men and women at work.
  • Neither men nor women flourish when they are in the minority in teams. Those in a gender minority tend to report lower life satisfaction, more negative moods, and lower commitment to the organization. There are some differences between how men and women build relationships with others when they are in a minority. When men are in a minority they tend to focus on others in the group. When women are in a minority they are more likely to network with others outside the team than when they are in a majority. In the past, there has been a view that there is a “tipping point” of about 30% women that makes a difference. The survey found that for all these critical factors, the optimal gender mix was about 50% men and 50% women.
  • The report highlights the extent to which working women continue to carry the bulk of the domestic labor in the home. This makes it difficult for many women to take on more responsibility, and ultimately leads to many potential female team leaders choosing not to have children, or indeed choosing not to take on increased responsibility. In many companies, the “family friendly” policies are seen to be focused primarily on women, while the assumption is that men are able to work long hours supported by their (often working) partner. If this attitude is to change, then companies need to address the wider societal norms regarding the distribution of domestic labor and create a situation where the implication is that there is equal sharing of parental leave and domestic labor.
  • Where innovation is crucial, companies should actively construct teams with equal proportions of men and women. This will ensure they are able to benefit and select from the most diverse talent pool. This research has highlighted for the first time the potential that gender balance has on the innovation potential of professional teams. It found that men and women team members have much in common. Where differences do exist, they are mainly related to women’s additional roles in society.
  • On a team level it was interesting to note that the key levers and drivers for innovative processes are positively influenced by having a 50:50 proportions of men and women in teams. This clearly shows that equal gender representation can help to unlock the innovative potential of teams.

A decade ago we were talking about gender diversity and now we have reached the point where we have set ourselves targets on the numbers we want to achieve. But just numbers won’t suffice—we need to move on to the next level. In some cases this needs to be backed up with training on including and accepting women in a business environment. Professional attitudes do not depend on gender, while in the early stages personal and social behaviors may need to be adjusted to allow for more diversity. This concerns not only men but women too.

In this issue of TWA, we have tried to cover different profiles of women in the energy industry, who have made it successful on their own, what worked for them and what concerns them. We hope this offers insight on the issue of gender diversity.

Like all things in life, change is an important agent to bring about innovation. After 4 years of being actively involved in TWA, this issue marks my last as Editor-in-Chief. I am grateful to all who supported and contributed to TWA during my tenure. This is just the start of exciting times ahead for TWA!


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