Why women have to play Board games

To my dear fellow professional

Thank you for sharing your views that we should worry less about playing “numbers games” with women on leadership teams and should rather ensure that women are well paid and acknowledged as successful deal-makers, that we don’t have to play games since the board structures will eventually sort themselves out.  I was deeply intrigued by this insight, it really made me sit back and ponder. Not because I agree with your opinion – I don’t – but because if you, my-esteemed-fellow-professional-whom-I-respect-so-highly, feel this way, then it seems perhaps we really do need to start playing board games. You are of course fully entitled to your wrong opinion, but I implore you to reconsider and here is why…

Before I begin, I read this week that men appreciate women with a sense of humor but are less fond of women who are funny – implying that what they really like is women who laugh at their humor (who writes this stuff??). Anyway, I will refrain from being even a little funny today and get serious for this particular debate.

Firstly, I really need to ask if you have thought this through? Is it possible that you really believe its alright that only men get the spots at the decision making table as long as we pay everyone else well? Do you honestly believe that women are only motivated by money and that real leadership is the realm of men only? Is it really possible that you believe that men are more ambitious than women and that women will be satisfied with a purely monetary compensation for the sacrifices they make to make sure that your firm is successful? Surely not my dear fellow professional…surely you were having something of a brain misfire when you said that?

I guess I can maybe convince you with simple numbers. Shares of companies with women board members outperformed comparable businesses with all-male boards by 26 percent worldwide over a period of six years (Credit Suisse Research Institute). Return on Equity: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 53 percent. Return on Sales: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 42 percent. Return on Invested Capital: On average, companies with the highest percentages of women board directors outperformed those with the least by 66 percent (Catalyst research report) and it goes on. But you’re still not convinced? You’re not buying the numbers? After all, in your company we just have to look at your incredible track record right?

OK, I’ll give you that one and not let myself get lost in confirmation bias. Consider then the small matter of diversity of thought.  Isn’t this the most obvious concept? Isn’t it obvious in our homes and our family lives? Aren’t traditional families run by a combination of genders? I just can’t get my head around your views that a board made up of people from the same gender, race and qualification can be having robust debate and thought. Is it not fraught with group-think? Are you not missing out by only really understanding the needs of half of the population? Half of your investors? Half of your employees? Half of your clients?

Indulge me then for a minute and think of a superstar in your team, someone you absolutely cannot afford to lose. Now imagine yourself in her shoes (figuratively obviously). Imagine her walking past your executive team, what do you think she sees? She sees how success looks in your company. She sees what it really takes to lead in your business. She says that leadership means being a man. And she isn’t a man is she? Not much she can do to change that. So if that superstar is ambitious, if she wants to be able to influence thinking, to lead in her world, to feel represented by her leadership team, to create a better business… she will have no choice other than to leave. And then you’ve lost someone you absolutely cannot afford to lose. But worse, you’ve already lost many just like her, and many who left before it became obvious that they were someone you absolutely could not afford to lose.

The majority of people once informed of an inherent bias will try to identify and correct for it. It seems that the bias towards men being better leaders is deeply ingrained in all of us – even in leading women. It is not a simple matter to correct for this, or even to recognize it as it plays out.

It is this deeply inherent issue that we face in businesses today, and it is for this reason that I believe we have no choice but to encourage quotas for women on boards. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to stand up and yell loudly that women should be getting appointed to executive committees and leadership teams because they deserve to be there, not only because they are filling a quota. I know that it will be tough for women to take appointments to executive committees and boards wondering if they perhaps are filling a quota and not being there on their own merit. But I also know that complex problems can sometimes be solved with simple solutions, and that the benefit will far outweigh the cost, for women, for our businesses and for the economy and society as a whole. So even if your industry doesn’t have goals for gender diversity on boards, give yourselves one – for all your executive committees and leadership teams, make the right choices to correct for the bias.

So my dear fellow professional, if I have still not managed to convince you that you need women on your board, that numbers do matter, then I think its pretty much time to let the games begin. Lets play.

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