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Women leaders drive innovation in business, research says

Women leaders

At the end of last year, Harvard Business Review published the article on how to drive more innovation at your organization. In this age, where just about any long-standing commercial company can be disrupted and toppled by the next start-up – nearly every organization is worried about this. How do they stay on top of new technology and trends? How do they build a flexible workforce that’s adaptive to change? How do they allow for failure and learning while still delivering shareholder value? Did the author endorse a new methodology? A hiring strategy? A twelve-point plan or new tech scouting software? No – the answer was decidedly straightforward: hire and promote more female leaders to drive innovation in your business.

In the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, research demonstrated that organizations that have as little as 30% women in leadership are 1.4 times more likely to have sustained profitable growth. Another study by McKinsey showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

The statistics alone are compelling. But, why is this the case?

Research on how women leaders encourage innovation:

  • Promote diversity

Companies that report high levels of diversity are 45% more likely to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year, and 70% more likely to report that the firm captured a new market (see Harvard link at the start of the article). This means more than just bringing in female leaders, but building diversity throughout an organization and promoting people from communities of color.

The theory here is that bringing in new voices uncovers new opportunities, ways of thinking, advocates, opponents, and more. If you don’t bring those differing viewpoints, you won’t see those opportunities.

  • Women are powerful advocates for the consumer’s voice

A great deal of the end-user and customer base of almost every organization is comprised of women. So, it’s not surprising at all that women offer valuable insights when it comes to developing new products or processes.

But introducing a woman into leadership often offers that one differing perspective into an otherwise male environment and allows them to point out new opportunities, see the value, and then take action on them. In fact, if your goal is to target female consumers, bringing women into your leadership improves the likelihood of success of reaching those women by 144%.

  • Women leaders are significant cultural influencers

One recent study looked at 341 Norwegian firms and found that female leadership was related to organizational innovation and found that female leaders can have a “top-down” effect in that they influence aspects of innovation culture throughout the organization.

How to support women leaders in innovation:

But, even if you’re convinced that you can influence innovation outcomes by hiring more women, it doesn’t mean that you’re prepared to do that. Here are some of the things that you need to have in place at your organization to ensure that you can attract and retain the type of female leaders who can drive positive change at your company.

  • A commitment to pay equality

Properly compensating your team members will make a huge difference here. It’s one of the easiest ways to retain talent. Conduct a wage review every 12 months and rectify any like-for-like disparities. Some companies have taken the 3% Pledge for Pay Equity.

  • Flexible workplaces

Employees and employers should be able to work when it makes sense to them with work performance based on objectives achieved rather than hours clocked. Is it okay for an employee to adjust her hours in order to get to her child’s science fair?

Also, is there a flexible maternity leave policy? Ensuring that organizations can accommodate the complex work lives of their employees makes it far more likely that they’ll want to work there and stay. You can also read up on ways to support women more in the workplace to find solutions that work for your organization.

  • Investment in potential

Sometimes women self-eliminate when looking at a list of requirements for a position, whereas a man is much more likely to apply even if he doesn’t tick every box. Research has also shown that male candidates receive the expectation that they will “grow into a role” whereas female candidates are seen to be lacking experience.

The language you use to recruit (do you really need to say “required” experience?), the faith you have in someone’s potential – all of these will come into play in the hiring process.

  • A share in the air time

One of the most common complaints from professional women is that they don’t get the same amount of time to speak in meetings, in front of executives, or with their coworkers or when they do speak. It’s not regarded with the same level of seriousness as that of their male colleagues.

Find ways to politely make space in meetings by asking your colleagues to give you the floor to make a presentation or take the initiative and speak up in boardrooms. Invite that engagement.

Final words on women leaders

Not every innovation strategy is this straightforward, of course. Still, the straightforward ones aren’t always easy to do. Take the steps now to be a workplace that is nurturing and rewarding for your female employees.

Meet Jessica Day
Meet Jessica Day.

About today’s writer

Jessica Day is Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at IdeaScale – leading idea management software for the enterprise and government. The software allows organizations to involve the opinions of public and private communities by collecting their ideas and giving users a platform to vote. The ideas are then evaluated, routed, and their implementation tasks are tracked, making IdeaScale the engine of crowd-powered innovation.

IdeaScale has been recognized as a leader in customization, security, and public engagements and has a client roster that includes numerous industry leaders, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers, Doctors Without Borders, Freddie Mac, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, NASA, the United Way, the US Air Force, and many others. Day volunteers for sustainability organizations and lives in Napa, CA. She holds an MFA in English, Creative Writing from the University of Washington.

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