SVP, Corporate Responsibility &
Global Chief Diversity Officer
Today, only 26 women lead Fortune 500 companies and just 17 percent of all board members are women. Compound this with the fact that a mere 28 percent of those firms have only one female director. And there has been minimal improvement in the gender wage gap, with men still earning 22 percent more than women in equivalent positions.
Juxtapose that with the plethora of research that indicates gender balanced leadership has a positive impact on the bottom line. A McKinsey report found that companies with a top quartile representation of women executives had an average 47 percent higher return on equity. In addition to ROI, changes in automation and technology are creating new opportunities for women. Manufacturing and physical jobs are disappearing, making way for a service economy where health care and personal services are the fastest growing sectors of the economy—fields dominated by women. The care industry values skills in which women often are seen as having an advantage. And as work becomes more complex, interconnected and global, the ability to collaborate, build consensus and inspire virtual teams – skills many women excel in – are becoming increasingly valuable.
In addition to the shift to a service economy, globalization is driving massive changes in the business world. We’re watching corporate giants fall to agile start-up companies from emerging economies like Brazil, Mexico and Turkey. By 2025, nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies will come from emerging markets with 40 percent located in China and India. Organizations can only reach their full potential when their leadership team reflects the diversity of their customers, more than half of which are women.
Succeeding in this new global economy requires a new kind of leader: a global enterprise leader who is innovative, self-aware and culturally competent. The global marketplace is interconnected and interdependent, and that creates a wealth of opportunities for women.
In addition to knowledge (IQ) and the ability to manage emotions in a positive way (EQ), it is essential for global leaders to have a much broader set of qualities called global intelligence or GQ. According to Harvard Business School professors Bill George and Krishna Palepu there are seven characteristics of GQ required for global leaders to operate in the new economy:
- World view – understanding the world as it is and the ability to adapt to changes quickly
- Self-awareness – knowing one’s strengths, vulnerabilities and biases
- Cultural curiosity – having a deep curiosity about other cultures and how they operate
- Empathy – appreciating the effect of cultural differences—walking in someone else’s shoes
- Alignment –aligning all employees around a common vision, mission and values
- Collaboration –creating networks that cut across geographic lines
- Integration – incorporating global and local issues into an integrated corporate strategy
A recent study of leadership skills rated women strongly in nearly all of these traits. In the Harvard Business Review study, women were rated higher than men in 12 out of 16 business leadership skills, including collaboration, integration and connecting to a world view, all critical GQ characteristics. In addition and most importantly, the study found that taking initiative and driving for results were rated highest for women, a clear indication women are well equipped to lead. In combination with the GQ skills, this puts women in a good position for complex global roles. Organizations need to be intentional about positioning women for global mobility roles at the appropriate times in their career if they want the best talent for global success.
We are making progress, but it is slow and more change is necessary to really validate improvement. Now more than ever, women have a chance to leverage their strengths to become future leaders in a global economy. We must recognize the value of gender balanced leadership, challenge the status quo and align women’s skillsets to the new opportunities of a global economy.
Rohini Anand, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President & Global Chief Diversity Officer for Sodexo.