There’s an awful lot of research about the lack of women on boards and in senior executive positions throughout the world. The situation is undeniably dire, but the problem for women is what to do to change things.
Quotas are worth thinking about, and the Ontario government in Canada has announced plans designed to force companies to give women more boardroom seats. But until the situation changes what we have inadvertently stumbled upon in my industry, PR, could be described as in-field research that in the long run just might end up making a difference.
PR is a different sort of industry, being female dominated. I run Ogilvy PR, Australia’s largest PR agency, and the vast majority of my competitor agencies are also run by women. And I have to say that we are the most competitive group imaginable – regularly pitching against each other as we battle for work; fighting to attract the best talent; relishing our successes and cursing our failures.
So far, so male; but here’s the difference.
We are also in regular contact, sharing information, supporting each other through the various crises that arise in business and occasionally personal lives, working on and driving initiatives for the industry where we all benefit, consulting with each other and even putting work each other’s way when there might be a conflict with a prospective client.
What this means is that for the first time in my career, women in senior positions understand what it is that we share; and one thing we certainly do share is our gender. Being female means we think differently to men, work differently to men and are motivated by very different things to men.
PR, because of its gender imbalance at the top, could give us an opportunity to operate under the same sort of one-sex rules that apply to the wider business community. We could use our female dominance of the entire industry, which is decidedly different to other business sectors, to create a ‘girl’s club’.
We could, but we choose not to. There may be this sort of collaboration and support in other industries, but it is teaching us in PR the sort of information that most men take for granted.
Regardless of individual views on gender equality, the statistics prove that most male business leaders have enjoyed such a self-perpetuating power structure.
What we women of PR are realising is that once we recognise that we are motivated by the same things, we also can be a very powerful force in changing the business world to a business world that embraces everyone. In other words: everyone’s business world.
So we are starting to understand what we need to do: use our new-found knowledge of our similar aims, ambitions and attitudes to not only mentor each other and those coming behind us, but to do more: to actively sponsor women to senior positions by telling everyone we run into about the abilities of those women we know.
And we will do that, not because we want to take over, nor through emotion or through engendering some sort of ‘do the right thing’ feeling, but because it makes sound business sense to select from the entire gene pool.
There is no doubt it is needed. At the latest count women hold just 9.7% of key executive management positions in ASX 200 companies and the fact that 60% of ASX 200 companies do not have a single female in a key executive management position is disappointing in the extreme.
And all this is despite years of research which consistently shows the shareholder benefit of having a gender diversified top echelon.
Research, for example, like last year’s finding by the Credit Suisse Research Institute that showed that after a six-year worldwide tracking program of shares of companies with a market capitalisation of more than $10 billion, the companies with female board members had outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 per cent.
Or the McKinsey report from two years ago where 89 listed companies in Europe with a very high proportion of women in senior management posts were researched, with financial performance compared with the average for firms in the same industry. The results? A higher return on equity, larger operating profits and a better share price.
Having women in the top ranks of company leadership is good business. Nothing more and nothing less.