Reams of recent research underscore the critical role women play in business, and the dramatic difference they can make to the bottom line. A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and professional services firm EY shows a significant correlation between female leadership and company profitability. In a similar vein, a report published by Nordea—the largest bank in the Nordic region and one of the largest in Europe—suggests investing in women at the C-level pays off. Its 2017 analysis of 11,000 publicly traded companies across the globe concludes “companies run by women perform far better than the market.” The business case for gender diversity is further reinforced by new findings from management consulting firm McKinsey released in January. Delivering Through Diversity reaffirms the global relevance of the link between diversity—defined as a greater proportion of women and a more mixed ethnic and cultural composition in the leadership of large companies—and company financial outperformance.
In fact, McKinsey’s new analysis (which builds on research from 2014 diversity data) shows that the impact of gender diversity on company profitability is much higher than was previously thought. In 2015 the data suggested companies with the most gender diversity on their executive teams were 15% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies with the least. Fast forward, and this number rises to 21%.
But firms that embrace gender diversity aren’t just much more likely to have high financial returns. They also have what it takes to move the needle on innovation. Research released last year by the University of Arizona Eller College of Management shows that diverse companies are also more creative. In an interview with CNBC, Joe Carella, assistant dean at the college, explained that an analysis of Fortune 500 companies revealed organizations with women in top management roles also experienced what he called “innovation intensity”—a power and passion that produced measurable results. Specifically, gender-diverse teams produced an average of 20% more patents than teams with male leaders.
What drives the ability of companies with women on boards and in teams to do markedly better than the rest? The evidence is strong, but a consensus is lacking. At one end, academics are quick to point to neurological differences between men and women. They suggest women are simply wired differently, able to analyze problems and find answers better than their male counterparts (who, research claims, tend to be better at taking action). At the other end of the spectrum, some researchers argue that women in firms that excel are the defining characteristic of a high performing company, not the catalyst.
Admittedly, the link between gender diversity and performance isn’t quite black and white. But rather than debate a causal relationship between women’s representation in top management and a company’s ability to increase profits and innovation, our efforts are better spent understanding and unlocking the intrinsic value of gender diversity to create a more inclusive environment and serve an increasingly diverse customer base.
To borrow from the words of Prof. Robin Ely at Harvard Business School: It’s not enough to “add women and stir.” Companies determined to achieve success must empower women and learn from their example. To help you cultivate and prioritize the elements of a successful and inclusive approach that will help foster the dialogue and activities needed to drive meaningful change in your organization, I draw from the experiences and advice of three remarkable women in marketing (including two managers whose expertise in mobile app marketing has earned them the title Mobile Hero). Their insights show how (and why) the power of gender diversity and the proven impact of women at the helm are essential to unleash the talent, innovation and knowledge within your company.
#1 Aspire to be a “Great Connector”
When Twitter acquired MoPub, a startup that helps mobile publishers manage their ad inventory, to build its advertising business in 2013, it was a deal that brought together two strong brands for a single purpose. Twitter’s Janae Redmond (VP, MoPub) tells me how she tapped her strengths, which include the ability to connect and coach, to drive the best possible outcomes for the business. Her efforts succeeded in breaking out of the echo chamber and with the status quo.
It all starts with an all-inclusive approach that bridges all functions. “If there’s a lack of connectivity you end up delivering sub-par solutions to challenges or problems that you need to tackle as an organization,” Redmond says. “If you foster a team that is more inclusive, not just of gender but also of all perspectives and talents, then you’re much more likely to deliver better solutions and better outcomes.”
A prime example of this strategy in action is the upcoming launch of “MoPub Analytics”, an interactive analytics solution that helps users visualize key data and reporting. The development of the product, currently in beta and launching soon to premium customers, pushed the envelope because it broke down the boundaries that typically separate marketing, product and engineering within an organization. Looking back, Redmond recalls work on the product started in early 2018 and involved individuals from engineering, data science, marketing, business development, product and customer service teams. It was “one of the smoothest executions” observed in her time at the company, she says, enabled by an organizational culture that “embraces a diversity of perspectives.”
Redmond is proud of what her team accomplished, but cautious not to lend credibility to a type of gender bias that companies must learn to question. “If we over-emphasize that women are natural connectors or tend to have a leadership style that fosters open exchanges, then we can end up reinforcing the bias that women are nurturing and natural born listeners,” she explains. In her view, the role that she plays—and a strength she cultivates—is intertwined with “the skill to foster inclusion by making sure everyone’s voice is heard.”
Inclusion transcends gender, bringing together “functional expertise to yield the most creativity,” Redmond says. But companies aren’t born with an inclusion culture; they achieve it by “fostering an environment of trust where people can feel comfortable sharing their views and opinions.” Her advice: Invest in developing talent with facilitation skills—skills that anyone can develop —as a first step to fostering conversations and connections across the organization that embrace and empower diverse perspectives. Take it a step further by harnessing technology, even if it’s as simple as using the Google Docs “comment” feature, to allow everyone a chance to express their opinion within a meeting or on a team. “It breaks down the barriers and dispels the fear some people have around voicing their opinion,” and that openness and authenticity is essential to “help people develop the skills to be inclusive, regardless of gender.”
#2 Find commonalities for a common good
Vivian Chang has over a decade of experience in digital marketing. Previously the Director of Digital Marketing at RetailMeNot, she is now Senior Director of Marketing at Plated, a meal kit delivery service available via online, mobile and app. Just as Plated seeks to engage consumers across multiple channels, so does Chang strive to encourage the disparate parts of her organization, particularly product and marketing, to work together to achieve the best results.
It all starts with “listening to learn,” Chang tells me, which is about “being humble enough to be authentically interested in what a colleague says, not looking for a chance to dominate the conversation.” It’s an important distinction, and a leadership trait she has honed to motivate cross-functional teams and drive marketing that combines data with a detailed understanding of the customer. “I enjoy and will opportunistically look for ways to build a bridge to get to know colleagues in data or product,” Chang explains. “Setting up the touch points that enable dialogue between all the parts of the organization is the first and most important step to effective collaboration.”
It was also the lynchpin in a wider strategy that allowed Chang to implement multitouch attribution, the complex process of tracking and assigning credit to marketing touchpoints along the path to conversion, during her time at RetailMeNot, after the first attempt to unite disparate parts of the organization around this goal fell short. Chang used active listening to “build bonds” with the teams—a connection that inspired action. “Having 1:1 talks with all the heads of all those departments allowed me to get their perspective, address their concerns and ensure we were all on the same page,” Chang recalls. The conversations also equipped her with insights and arguments to make a stronger case for multitouch attribution and get important buy-in from the C-level. “With executive team support, we were able to push the boundaries of optimizing based on MTA data in real-time, where it fundamentally changed how we looked at our metrics and allocated budget.”
The cutting-edge platform paid dividends, but it was an implementation that would have stalled if Chang hadn’t made an active effort to find “commonalities” to smooth the process across the organization. “It’s about building trust through common interests, not just in the business context but especially in personal life. “Swapping stories about pets, kids, fitness routines, even trivial things like saying hi when we both get coffee at the same time each morning can build a bridge,” Chang says. Her advice: Show a real interest; be real as a person. “Bring your ‘whole self’ to work and share details about your life outside of work to connect with people at work on a more genuine level,” she explains. (It’s a valuable lesson Chang says she learned early on from Brett Billick, now CMO at Self Lender.) Collaborating proactively and with humility across other functions on a shared outcome helps grow one’s internal network and navigate often complex office dynamics, both key to success within any organization.
#3 Shift your mindset from “human doing to human being”
Cassie Chernin has a long track record in marketing, a path that has taken her from the Boston Consulting Group to Ibotta to HomeAdvisor, and more recently to Scopely, the interactive entertainment company and mobile game publisher, where she is currently a Senior User Acquisition Manager. She tells me one of her greatest accomplishments dates back to her time at HomeAdvisor, a digital marketplace that connects homeowners with prescreened, local service professionals to complete home improvement, maintenance and remodeling projects.
She was starting out in user acquisition for the app and amazed to find that “we had a functional strong app, but no one was using it,” she would later reveal in a blog post. “Between testing channels, creating an LTV model, and integrating an MMP, “we managed to grow the app marketing budget to an expected $15 million from $200K in my first year, making it a big source of traffic for Home Advisor.” Looking back, Chernin says, what led to the success was a team effort driven by “cross-functional collaboration, open and honest feedback, and the ability to quickly iterate and pivot” and this allowed for the team to rally and achieve our aggressive goals—and to constantly feel like they could reach them.
“It’s all about orchestrating the talents of others on the team,” she explains. “No one is good at everything, you need to lead a team by allocating talent where they are most likely to succeed.” More importantly, she continues, it’s about cultivating a leadership style that is “emotionally supportive” in order to bring teams together and bring out the best in them. “Yes, we have to reach our goals and hit our metrics. But we have to shift our mindset and move from human doing to human being.” Put another way, “being real, reachable and personable—not a robot focused on results—is important to the success of the team and the success of the company.” Her advice is reinforced by new research published this month in the Harvard Business Review that concludes emotional support is at the core of what can bring teams (and couples) closer together. Significantly, the researchers note, there is a “substantial gender divide to bridge” as women are more able (or perhaps more willing) to provide emotional support than their male counterparts.
Of course, that’s not the only gap affecting women. “We have yet to achieve gender diversity in the workplace and, while we have made progress, we are still drastically outnumbered in senior leadership positions,” Chernin observes. “Diversity isn’t a box a company can tick and be done with it.” Her advice: Keep companies accountable and don’t sit back and wait for the inclusive world you want. “If you’re not setting up programs, if you’re not participating in women-led groups at your company, or organizing your own, if you’re not offering mentorship or becoming a leader for women in your company, then you aren’t doing enough,” Chernin says. “Even if you aren’t affected by gender inequality, someone at your organization is, so as a female leader, do your part to contribute.”
One organization rising to the challenge is mBolden (formerly Women in Wireless). “mBolden has grown from connecting and mentoring women in media to empowering, inspiring and emboldening them in building a voice and visibility platform allowing them to take flight,” says Lara Mehanna, mBolden Co-President. “We are always in awe of our community and how working together lifts all women up higher.” To date the organization has grown to a global community of 10,000 members, spanning 10 chapters, and expanded to manage a Speakers Bureau that connects women leaders with high-profile speaking engagements and a MadWomen University training program teaching women to find their voice. In their turn, MadWomen U graduates will go on to inspire the next generation of women innovators, in a virtuous cycle of gender-diverse empowerment.
Today may mark the end of International Women’s Month, but the real work is just getting started!
This article first appeared on Forbes.