Smart organisations — and those that succeed over the next decade and beyond — will understand that the twenty-first century is the ‘Women’s Century’. In the years ahead, women’s economic participation and entrepreneurial growth will drive the world’s economy. It’s no longer a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘to what heights’.
— Muhtar Kent, chairman of the board & CEO, Coca-Cola
Think about some fairly hefty statistics.
Women are the spending power of over two-thirds of Australian households. They represent just under half the global population and are the fastest growing group of consumers worldwide. They not only make up a significant portion of the workforce, they are rapidly becoming the fastest-growing entrepreneurial group in both the first and third worlds. Women who work, whether it is on an executive level or in a cottage industry, are building a new society. They have created a new paradigm as they outsource and create virtual networks to enable them to follow their own dreams of success and achieve ‘balance’: everything from child care to ironing, personal admin and household chores is subcontracted to allow the hours traditionally spent on these tasks to be invested in their own personal goals.
For the first time in history, an increasing number of women are becoming independently (and openly) wealthy. The growth in women’s financial independence and power is shaping industries, communication methods and consumer demands as businesses attempt to remain relevant with this group of decision-makers. It is also having massive implications for general business methods, as women respond extremely well to collaborative business practices.
Large corporates still fail to have an equal representation of male and female leaders at the top. Women continue to remain the world’s greatest underdeveloped and underused source of labour, with nearly one half of working-age women not currently active in the formal global economy. Australia as a first-world nation has one of the lowest rates of educated women participating in the workplace despite having one of the highest rates of tertiary education for women.
It makes economic sense to engage and collaborate commercially with women to gain balanced insight and leadership as part of strategic decision-making for the future, but it's not happening - and unless we collaborate, the lack of female leaders now will drastically affect the pipeline of female leaders for tomorrow. There will be no funneling of talent, no mentoring or active sponsoring of younger women – because these senior female leaders simply won't be there to see these things put in place. As female financial independence and earning power increases, women’s spending tends to focus on the people they support versus materialistic purchases. Innovation across industries is required to determine the best way to leverage the growth of female buying power, and innovation by women as leaders is the ideal scenario.
The lost investment in talent — in smart, savvy, knowledgeable and strong women who are able to make a difference and ensure that equality is kept — is astonishing, and yet organisations are willing to let this happen and incur the cost to re-recruit versus retain. The reduction in the effectiveness of collaborative business is also clear, with the ‘female voice’ being lost and key characteristics and strengths disappearing from the process.
The disappearing female leader means a management team devoid of perspective. Decision-making is one-dimensional.
There is no doubt that unconscious bias continues to challenge the achievement of true equality in society and the workplace. Unless we collaborate, the lack of female leaders now will drastically affect the pipeline of female leaders for tomorrow.
To commercially collaborate successfully, to future-proof business, careers and success we all need to, as Sheryl Sandberg said, ‘Lean in’. More than that, we need to, as I have said before, 'lean out' - become a part of a bigger picture, stop simply talking about this issue, and start taking action together.
Improved diversity, and in turn improved collaboration, makes sense on so many levels, creating a positive impact on:
Listen to what the women in society and in business are saying right now. Explore the possibilities of what diversity and 100 per cent involvement could bring — how the benefits of a collaborative society and workplace, one that is well-rounded, well influenced and well distributed, can widen perspective and create opportunities that have not as yet been tapped into.
The increasing influence of women is challenging us all to adapt and realign ourselves to the needs of a new society. Engaging women in the workplace, especially at the leadership level, is an essential part of the new collaborative economy.
Don't let the influence - and the incredible intelligence and skills that women bring to the workplace - go down that talent drain and be wasted.
Instead, create a whirlpool of collaborative momentum. The gains will only be positive.