When I work with Boards on how to do inclusive leadership better, I’m often met with one of two reactions. The first is that incorporating women is threatening when there are so few positions at the top anyway. The second is from more enlightened men who suddenly see how their businesses have been held back by only drawing on the talents of half of the population. With increased globalisation in the 21st century, we will all have to work with a larger proportion of people who are fundamentally different than us – which is a challenge for everyone. The first group of guys prefer to bury their heads in the sand to this challenge. But the second group get it – and understand that’s where their competitive advantage will come from if they manage well.
Take the example of Warren Buffet, CEO and Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. In an exclusive article for the Fortune Magazine, Buffet recently spoke up for women in business – “America has forged this success while utilizing, in large part, only half of the country’s talent. For most of our history, women — whatever their abilities — have been relegated to the side-lines. Only in recent years have we begun to correct that problem.” In an interview with Pattie Sellers from Fortune Magazine, he asked women to give up their self-limiting beliefs and aim for the top. His company bought on a third woman director on board, clearly recognizing that gender diversity means more success.
Gender diversity faces resistance because some men find it difficult to look beyond their self-interests. After all, who wants to double the number of competitors for top positions? But worse, there can be a deeply engrained fear of a future world that is fundamentally different from the one in which we grew up. Inclusive leadership looks beyond these factors to a world where better results can be achieved when more people contribute to the economy.
No manager operates his or her plants at 80% efficiency when steps could be taken that would increase output. And no CEO wants male employees to be underutilized when improved training or working conditions would boost productivity. When obvious benefits flow from helping the male component of the workforce achieve its potential, why in the world wouldn’t you want to include its counterpart? As Warren Buffet put it; we are all operating on ‘half-capacity’ when we don’t fully integrate the talents of women.