Fixing U.S. Executive Gender Balance Could Provide an Economic Edge

Did you know that Brazil has more gender balance in its companies’ senior executive roles than the U.S. does? So do China, Russia and Poland? See here:

Gender Balance in Senior Management

Russia: 46% Female / 54% Male

Brazil: 27% Female / 73% Male

China: 25% Female / 75% Male

U.K.: 20% Female / 80% Male

U.S.: 17% Female / 83% Male

Source: Grant Thornton Business Report, 2012

So why do so many American companies feel that they have balanced gender? Maybe because they don’t buy the same research the leading pension investment funds do; linking financial performance to gender balance in leadership. Or they don’t recognise that 60 percent of university graduates in the U.S. are women. Or they don’t realize that women control the majority of purchasing decisions in an ever-broadening series of sectors.

Or maybe it’s just because companies feel they can hide behind window dressing; promoting a token woman to their executive committees and a few non-execs to their boards. This camouflaging may end if we ever get more transparency on the actual gender balances in companies, a much better tool than quotas, as Goldman Sachs has said it will now do.

The U.S.’s gender imbalance isn’t just disappointing; it’s economically harmful at a time when the U.S. could use an economic edge. Here are some suggestions of what companies should stop doing:

Stop framing gender as a diversity issue: Women are the majority of educated brains in the U.S., the majority of the labor force and the majority of consumers. Whoever decided to frame gender as a diversity issue? Why did American women ever accept this? Gender balance is a strategic business opportunity. Take it.

Stop trying to fix women: Too many companies have spent the last decade “empowering” women by sending them on assertiveness training, coaching or mentoring programs that (often unconsciously) encourage them to become more masculine to fit into existing corporate norms. Instead, get your leaders to learn the language and culture of women.

Stop treating everyone the same: Too many managers have been taught to ignore the differences between men and women. But ignoring differences kills women’s careers or gets them forever judged as lesser than. You don’t build sales and leadership skills among women by treating them like men. Learn and use the differences for competitive advantage.