Women: Beneficiaries and Mediators of ‘Deep Diversity’

Tomorrow’s workplace diversity is likely to be much deeper than today’s, and women may be uniquely qualified to maximize its innovative potential.

Driven largely by changing demographics and technological advancements, this new “deep diversity” encompasses factors beyond race and gender — including generations, skills, disciplines, thinking styles and backgrounds — according to “The Future of Work,” a report by Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute. For instance, in the last 35 years, the number of workers age 65 and older has more than doubled, and a workplace today can easily include five generations. By mid-century, immigration will be the largest driver of growth in the United States, with clear implications for the workforce, according to the Labor Department. Readily available mobile technology has also shifted the geography of the workplace by enabling virtual collaboration on a global scale.

As diversity deepens, women may be both the beneficiaries and mediators of this change. Women make up only 17 percent of senior management in the United States, far behind percentages in China (25 percent), Vietnam (27 percent) and Thailand (39 percent), according to consultancy Grant Thornton’s 2012 report. Increasingly, global workplaces can help smooth gender disparities and widen the pool of female professionals. In addition, the skill sets women bring to managing complex group dynamics may be particularly valuable as organizations seek to mitigate diversity-related challenges. For example, according to Apollo Research Institute’s new book Women Lead, women outperform men on key leadership skills, including communicating, networking, mentoring/coaching and the ability to organize people.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, MIT professors Thomas Malone and Anita Woolley point out the direct connection between a group’s performance and its diversity — specifically how many women are included. As Woolley notes, “What do you hear about great groups? Not that the members are all really smart but that they listen to each other. They share criticism constructively. They have open minds. They’re not autocratic.” These are precisely the leadership traits that many women wield with ease, and cultivating their talents will be invaluable to tomorrow’s competitive and deeply diverse workplace.