It seems like a week doesn’t go by without a major tech company announcing its abysmal workplace diversity numbers. Technology, it would seem, is made by a bunch of white guys. And lately these white guys have decided they need to add women to their boards, their executive teams, and their front lines as fast as possible.
Everyone is talking about the “diversity problem.” I even get tired of hearing about it myself. But it doesn’t seem like many really stop to ask, why is this a problem?
The answer is that businesses comprised of people with the same experiences and world views tend to miss big things. The reason lack of diversity is a problem has much more to with the bottom line than with the company photo.
At my company ServiceMax, seven out of 19 senior leaders are women. That’s pretty good! And pretty rare. But it’s not because we consciously set a diversity quota or wanted to check that box for “the optics of it.”
Rather, it’s because our CEO intrinsically believes that women contribute in different ways than men, and he values those differences. The benefits of having balance, and the vigorous debates that come from people with diverse viewpoints, are broad. In his words, there is “no doubt in my mind that adds to the resiliency of the business.” With triple-digit revenue growth since being founded in 2007, it’s safe to say we’re onto something.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say women are better leaders or higher performers than men. We’re just different. And the difference in our contribution often means higher impact on results. Hiring more women isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do for your business.
How are women different? Research indicates that women tend to seek out resolution instead of conflict, and they like to talk through their emotions, thoughts, and feelings more so than their male counterparts.
According to Daniel Goleman, the leading expert in emotional intelligence, girls develop language earlier than boys and use that to their advantage as they resolve conflict. It’s easy for a group of men to sit together and devise war plans, but I’ve found it’s usually the women in the room who point out a more peaceful approach to winning. One strategy isn’t always better than the other, but having both surfaced in discussions gives you more strategic options to consider.
I remember a time in our early days as a company when an analyst rated our product lower than we were hoping for. When you’re building a startup you are heavily emotionally invested, and we all felt strongly that our rating was unfair.
I recall some fairly strong emails among our senior management team regarding how we should react to the analyst’s review. And yes, there may have been a few profanities too. I was the sole person (and sole female on the team at the time) who said, “Hey, wait a minute, we are small and this analyst is important. Let’s suck it up and win him over.”
It was the opposite approach from everyone else, but we took it, and in retrospect it was the right thing to do. That isn’t always the case, but we certainly agree it never hurts to consider varying viewpoints before taking action.
Women can also have a greater capacity to empathize. According to a 2008 leadership study, individuals that exhibit a transformational leadership style–a people-oriented approach that involves motivating employees, developing followers through mentorship, and attending to individualized needs–are perceived to be the best leaders.
We recently hired a female SVP of Engineering, Vivian Wong, to help us deliver innovative technology even better and faster. Her first plan of action was not to dive into the code, but rather to meet with every engineer on the staff and understand them–what motivates them, how they’re feeling, how she can make them more productive. After all, they are the ones who will ultimately drive our technical success.
Correlated with transformational leadership, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, perceive, regulate, and manage emotions in one’s self and in others. A group of researchers found that women consistently score high on emotional intelligence tests when compared to men. But that’s not to say they’re soft–women I’ve worked for are some of the most demanding bosses out there. They are just more likely to be able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
My brother runs his own small business. He doesn’t have a board, but he has a few people he seeks out when he needs some external input. My mom was a teacher who didn’t know a thing about running a business, but she always had a great intuition and gut feel about tough situations because she understood people. He may not have gone to her for technical or financial advice, but she was an invaluable contributor to his strategy, and a better “board member” than he could have hoped for.
The real value in adding women to your workforce has nothing to do with political correctness, a more diverse company photo, or checking a box for PR reasons. For the uproar over women in the workplace to come to a meaningful resolution, businesses need to embrace that women offer valuable insights and habits that only broaden the opportunities for success. Do that, and businesses will never look back.
—Stacey Epstein is chief marketing officer at ServiceMax, which provides software solutions for service companies. Previously, Epstein was vice president of Global Marketing Communications at SuccessFactors, where she pioneered the marcomm function and was instrumental in the company’s successful IPO in 2007. She has held various leadership roles at ServiceSource, Clarify, and Oracle, and she has two decades of SaaS, CRM, service management, and enterprise application experience.