“Are You Missing Millions?” asks former Australian Prime Minister and Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (GIWL) Chair Julia Gillard
13 August 2020
How can you pave the way for business growth after COVID-19? One strategy offers a big opportunity: enabling women and men to have an equal role in strategic planning, technological development, product and service design, marketing and the supply chain. As some of the world’s largest companies have found, it can lead to a growth in your customer base, revenues and competitiveness.
Simply put: gender equality is both morally right and good for business.
That was the key takeaway from a recent webinar hosted by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London. The discussion was led by institute chair and former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
‘Right around the world, businesses are under huge pressure because of the pandemic. In tough times, it is tempting to yearn for a return to the status quo, but in our rapidly changing world that dream won’t come true. To thrive in this environment business will need to seize the opportunity to build back better, including realising the benefits that come with gender equality and diversity.’
Building on a report released last year by the 30% Club in conjunction with PwC, the webinar looked at how efforts to promote greater inclusion for women could help businesses emerge stronger than ever out of today’s crisis. Joining Julia and me in the conversation were Ebony Rainford-Brent, Sky Sports broadcaster and Director of Surrey Women's Cricket; Daniel Klier, Global Head of Sustainable Finance at HSBC; and Sally Jackson, Senior Vice President of Global Communications and CEO Office at GSK.
Last November’s report , ‘Are you missing millions? The commercial imperative for putting a gender lens on your business’, shows how organisations reap significant benefits by promoting gender inclusion. For example, Unilever’s Unstereotype initiative – which is aimed at more diverse, inclusive and realistic portrayals in ads – produced a 37% benefit to brand impact, a 28% uplift in purchase intent and a 30% increase in credibility.
The key: A strategic, company-wide mindset shift
Gaining such business benefits requires a company-wide commitment to inclusion – HR alone can’t drive this shift. It takes a more strategic way of thinking, with support from the C-suite down.
Promoting gender equality also requires more than ticking boxes. Leaders across an organisation must recognise that when they fail to consider women’s needs and concerns in business decisions, they are failing to connect with a large number of potential customers. That’s leaving money on the table – money a competitor will pick up instead.
After Vodafone identified a ‘mobile gender gap’ of around 200 million women in emerging markets, the company made it a priority to bring mobile services to at least 50 million such customers by 2025. As a result, the telco already reaches some 20 million new female customers through programmes such as Mum & Baby, a service with free healthcare information for expectant parents in South Africa.
Programmes like that are good for business – but not possible with buy-in from HR alone. Leaders must make it happen and employees must take it to heart.
Let data be the driver
While anecdotal examples such as Unilever and Vodafone are helpful, the most powerful inspiration comes from data. The more insights a company has into where women stand in the organisation – as employees, as suppliers, as customers – the better able it will be to identify and act on its unique challenges.
Look at initiatives on climate and sustainability. When organisations first began to improve in these areas, they often discovered how much they didn’t know about their performance. It was only after they committed to collecting the right data, and putting that to use, that they could identify and make progress towards meaningful sustainability goals.
The same is true for gender equality: you will need a lot of data to identify where the best opportunities lie. Similarly, better data will help drive racial, disability and LGBTQ diversity programmes as well.
Look forwards, not back
COVID-19 has upended the working world, and made it clear the future must be more flexible and more digital. To make the most of new opportunities, organisations will need to be more inclusive too, and make gender equality a priority. After all, what makes greater business sense: to focus on 50% of your potential employees, suppliers and customers… or to fully consider 100% of them in every decision?