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What are the business benefits of diverse leadership teams?

The world has become highly diverse, but many businesses have not - particularly when it comes to combining diversity with the inclusive culture needed to truly drive value. 

What are the business benefits of having diverse leadership teams? That was the question posed by ‘Advance’ – Women in Swiss Business and Zurich Insurance Group at an industry event last week.  Audrey Dadon, Manager, Switzerland for Oliver James Associates was delighted to be a part of the panel discussing this topic alongside senior executives in the insurance industry. So what were the outcomes of this discussion? And what learnings can we all take away? 

The gender balance in senior leadership positions in Switzerland is still far from mixed. The share of women falls well below the international average at only 9%. The aim of ‘Advance’ is to ensure that women occupy 20% of all leading positions in member companies by 2020 and hence that the economy benefits from the higher innovation, profit and productivity that result from having mixed-gender management teams.

A significant body of recent research shows that diverse teams are more innovative and perform at higher levels; companies that build diversity into their teams reap the benefits of new ideas, more debate and better business decisions. According to a recent McKinsey Analysis, gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform, whilst ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform on their financial results. This highlights the theory that teams that have both inherent and acquired diversity, out-innovate and out-perform others. 

So why is “diversity” still not the norm in so many companies? 

One of the panellists at this event argued that perhaps we like the “idea” of diversity in the workplace more than implementing it in real life. In other words, we’re all talk and no action. This goes hand-in-hand with our natural desire to recruit people “like ourselves”. Moreover, our whole culture is built on the preconception that men are the ones that need to go out to work and provide for the family, whilst women should stay at home and take care of the family. If parents (and society) do not break these thought patterns, the next generation may grow up with these exact ideas. 

What do we need to do to achieve diversity? Should there be greater collaborations with universities, schools and other institutions in order to help women and young girls shake any self-doubt? Perhaps we also need to challenge the unnecessary barriers for women who do not fit the ‘standard’ mould of the self-confident, self-promoting profile business can be so typically rife with. We  need to ensure that women can be themselves at work and not feel pressured into ‘becoming like a man’ in order to succeed. 

It is definitely apparent that the lack of women at a senior level is being taken seriously and there appears to be a focus on re-shaping the opinions of senior leaders and managers in order to achieve diversity in business. Another panellist at the event reiterated that the topic of diversity is not a case of male versus female; it's a basic human rights issue.

Does this mean that we actually need to change the overall discussion regarding diversity? Being more diverse helps us with being more innovative, being positioned to better understand our customer’s needs and empowers us to cast wider nets for the best talent. Attracting, developing, mentoring and retaining the next generations of global leaders should be high priority for all companies; taking advantage of a diverse talent pool is how companies will get ahead. 

Audrey Dadon, Manager, Switzerland Oliver James Associates, is passionate about helping women to advance their career. For any career advice, please contact Audrey on Audrey.Dadon@ojassociates.com  

For further information on ‘Advance’ and future events please click here http://www.advance-women.ch/display/WEN/Home