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How to Convince your Boss to Invest in Gender Equality

So, you’re pumped up and ready to start actively working with gender equality at your company. You bring the idea to your boss, who says “sure, gender equality is important, but we just have so much on our agenda this year. We don’t have time or money in the budget to work with gender equality right now. I’m sorry, but this will just have to wait.” Instead of giving up, though, here is where selling the business case for gender equality really comes in.

“But isn’t profitability important for us?” You could say. “Aren’t creativity and innovation key pieces of our business? Gender equality has been correlated with increased profitability and increased innovation on teams. Why don’t I send you the data and you can check it out.”

This week, we’ve decided to write a blog to give you the arguments to create and defend the business case for gender equality at your company. Whether you’re the boss, needing to convince your colleagues why this is important, or whether you’re actually trying to convince your boss, finding your company’s one-of-a-kind “why” for why this is important is essential for success with equality work. The leadership really needs to buy into this, and actually help create this “why” argument in order for equality and diversity work to be successful.

We’ll caution right off the bat that these arguments must be tailored to your business’s situation - there’s no one-size-fits-all argument for gender equality and diversity. However, these are some good starting points.

Serge and I went through these arguments on Tuesday night as panel participants of the Swedish tech industry event “The 33 List” - which is a list of Sweden’s 33 hottest tech startups by two top Swedish business magazines and newspapers: Affärsvärlden and NyTeknik. We must say, just being on a panel with Eva Fors, the former COO of Microsoft Sweden, and the current CEO of one of the winners of the 33 hottest startups, Yanzi Networks, was an amazing experience.

The question that the three of us (Eva, Serge and I) received from the moderator, Susanna Baltscheffsky, Editor-in-Chief of Talentum Media AB and the tech newspaper NyTeknik, was: “What kind of improvements do you see with a gender-equal workplace?” We all responded with different business cases for gender equality. Here they are:

1. You get a more innovative and creative environment.

It’s not hard to understand that people with very similar backgrounds will approach a problem similarly and develop similar solutions. But this is also backed up by research. According to Anita Borg Institute, patents produced by mixed-gender teams were cited 30-40% more often than the average citation rate for patents of a similar age and type. What does this mean? Well, you can get a patent for a lot of things that don’t really go anywhere, however, the patents that are actually being used in real life (and therefore cited more often) are 30-40% more likely to be developed by mixed-gender teams.

2. It’s more fun.

Who wants to work in a boring workplace with the same exact people with the same background surrounding you? It’s more fun to work with different people with different backgrounds and life experiences.

3. Gender equality is profitable.

According to McKinsey and Co.’s 2010 report, Women Matter 2010: Women at the Top of Corporations, in a database looking at 231 companies across Europe, Russia, Brasil and China, the companies with the most women on their executive teams financially outperformed those with no women on executive teams in terms of earnings (EBIT) by a whopping 56%. That’s outrageously good results. These results do not stand alone, either, but have been echoed by a series of other studies. For a nice review of some of the relevant research, look at the page Hire More Women in Tech by  Karen Schoellkopf.

4. Teams with more diversity are better at problem-solving.

A team led by Katherine Phillips of Columbia University found that heterogeneous teams are better at problem-solving than homogenous teams. The heterogenous teams correctly answered a problem 75% of the time whereas homogenous teams answered the problem correctly only 54% of the time.

Interestingly, in the diverse groups, the groups were less confident in their performance, and perceived their interactions as less effective, despite the fact that they actually did better.

These are, of course, just a few of the arguments to get you started. If we missed your company’s business case, feel free to share it in the comments below. Also, let us know if someone makes an argument against equality work that you don’t know how to respond to - we love banter!

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