Sunday 15 September 2019

Gender diversity can only make our businesses work better

Intel chief Eamonn Sinnott kicks off a new series where business leaders suggest ways to improve the economy and create new jobs

MIX IT UP: Eamonn Sinnott says Irish businesses should embrace gender diversity
MIX IT UP: Eamonn Sinnott says Irish businesses should embrace gender diversity

Eamonn Sinnott

The Ireland we know and love is evolving rapidly. Many aspects of our culture are transforming as we experience a vibrant political landscape, a regenerated economy and a dynamic society that is readying itself for an upcoming generation of tech savvy post-millennials.

As a small open economy. we must compete in an increasingly diverse global marketplace while positioning ourselves as the destination of choice for inward investment from across the globe. In this context we should examine every opportunity to carve out an advantage to help Ireland succeed - and, based on my experience, I believe that embracing gender diversity, in all walks of life, is an important means to that end.

The landscape in which businesses compete today is one of increased diversity and dynamism where the reality is that women are key consumers. It's well understood that 80pc of global consumer spending decisions are made by women - which equates to some approximately $20trn (€17.7trn) of spending.

These numbers continue to rise and are a significant lever of transformation in the marketplace of the 21st Century. This of course has implications for the way that companies define their consumer and the "user experience" of that consumer.

It has been proven through research by the likes of Gallup that when an organisation's employee base mirrors the market it serves, it will be better positioned to gain an insight into what products and services that their customers in that market want.

Many studies (such as the 2011 study by the Harvard Business Review) have confirmed that gender balanced teams demonstrate higher collective intelligence, when compared to homogeneous teams.

The fact that gender balanced teams perform better is not because one gender is better than another, but because each brings something different to the table that helps business to operate more effectively.

Different characteristics brought by both genders enhance productivity. A combination of different perspectives, styles and characteristics reduces group think, and drives innovation and creativity.

In a time when business competitiveness can largely be attributed to the talent of its people, it is crucial to be able to cultivate and harness this creativity and innovation. Considering the benefit of a balanced perspective only serves to further emphasise how it makes little sense for so few females to hold decision-making authority in organisations.

Perhaps the most striking fact is that improved gender diversity equates to superior financial performance for companies. Here are some examples:

l A Fortune 500 study revealed that companies with the highest percentile of women on their boards outperformed those in the lowest percentile by 42pc higher return on sales (Catalyst, 2007).

l For every percentage increase in the rate of gender diversity there was an increase in sales revenues of about 3pc (Herring, 2009).

l Companies with greater gender diversity in top positions achieved stock price growth of 64pc relative to an average of 47pc (McKinsey, 2007).

In short, gender balance undeniably has the potential to boost the bottom line.

As a father to a son and two daughters, gender has become a very resonate aspect of diversity for me. The reality is that today's young people growing up and being educated in Ireland have largely the same opportunities available to them, and are immersed in an environment where females equally flourish and in fact often outperform their male counterparts.

I can't help but ask if we are adequately focusing on how these educational achievements are carried through to the workplace and to address why it is that women are more likely to leave the workforce and more likely to be confined to certain sectors, occupations and levels?

It is little over 40 years since this country removed the marriage bar, paving the way for employment equality and pointing towards an Ireland that didn't discriminate on the grounds of gender or marital status. At that time only 27pc of the Irish workforce was female, a number that has risen significantly to more than 46pc today.

While much progress is being made, there are still many areas in which we lag behind - for instance just one in ten directors of Irish publicly listed companies are women (European Commission, 2013), a statistic which is only lower in one other European country and which sees us lag far behind the likes of the UK where more than 22pc of directors at publicly quoted companies are female.

My own experience in a firm that thrives on a foundation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines (STEM), has given me a first-hand experience of the disparity that exists in these areas. Why is it that we cannot translate the passion and capability for STEM disciplines that exists in equal measure in schooldays to careers that appeal to women in the same number?

If, like me, you are convinced that embracing gender diversity underpins considerable business opportunity then why not embrace the same principle for Ireland and carry it through to every aspect of our society?

Ireland, throughout our history been home to some of the brightest minds and most brilliant innovators - many of whom were women. You need look no further than the groundbreaking scientific contributions of Dorothy Stopford Price, the political determination of Countess Markievicz and the remarkable achievements of former president Mary Robinson to appreciate some of the exceptional people that have called Ireland their home.

Ireland should seize the opportunity to encourage the next generation of women to take their place in all aspects of Irish society, if and wherever they choose.

Eamonn Sinnott is general manager of Intel Ireland

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