This is not another article about being fair and equitable to women. Personally I don’t believe in equality as an aspiration. I do believe that businesses are there for one reason; to make a profit. And I do believe many businesses are missing a golden opportunity to do this.
When it comes to business ethics, I am a traditionalist. Siding with Milton Friedman on his views,
“There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”
But therein lays the challenge for business, which resources are they drawing on? There is a plethora of research that points to the bottom line benefits of a diverse workforce. Recently published research by McKinsey / Catalyst shows a 56% increase in the level of profitability for businesses with gender-balanced boards compared to those who only have men at the top.
So this issue of gender balance is no longer one of the old boys club and glass ceiling, the evidence shows it is much more serious than that. Diversity will increase profits. A lack of diversity means businesses are neglecting their shareholders interest by failing to be as profitable as they can be.
At the Family Friendly Enterprise conference hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee in February the issue of women in senior positions was a key discussion topic. Inevitably the focus soon fell to Quotas, as divisive in the conference as elsewhere. But I feel that quota systems are only the tip of the iceberg.
Organisations that are paying close attention to their strategic human resources will already have identified they skills and capabilities mix they need to be profitable. If this is being done effectively and competently then they will be drawing on the full pool of available resource. Quotas then become as much a part of the strategic direction as having enough people in the manufacturing department with the appropriate range of skills.
The benefits that are seen from creating a family friendly enterprise are going to be seen across the wider employee spectrum. Consider flexible working arrangements, improved technology to allow remote working and a psychological contract that focuses on mutual benefit and productivity for both employee and employer.
Imagine businesses that are so engaged with their employees that they build long term sustainable relationships. Where work-life balance is not a cliché but an integral part of the way in which people make decisions. Businesses that really work for their key asset; employees? Well that’s just good business sense.
So as the debate on how best to get women through the glass ceiling continues. Businesses should be asking themselves one question. Do we want to be more profitable? Then women can join the profit elevator all the way to the top.