Why women mean business

It’s accepted that diverse perspectives are essential to sustainable business success, especially in creating conditions conducive to innovation, yet many companies still struggle with diversity, especially gender. New figures show that more than half of the senior executive teams of Australia’s top 200 public companies remain complete female-free zones, and Vineet Nayar, Vice Chairman and CEO of HCL Technologies, an India-based global IT services company, asks if women are actually hungry enough for change. “No doubt the starting point (of diversity) is the creation of an enabling environment,” Nayar argues. “Yes, we need to encourage, support, enable, educate… But all that is just a starting point.” He cites two other pre-conditions for change: “a sense of dissatisfaction — an intense unhappiness and a sense of frustration with the existing reality”, and the aspiration to grow. “Women need to display tenacity and an uncompromising determination to climb the professional ladder,” he says. “Opting out cannot be a choice.” Not so, counters Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of international gender consultancy, 20-first, and author of books including Why Women Mean Business and its how-to sequel. Companies should stop trying to “fix” women and instead accept and leverage acknowledged gender differences by creating “bilingual organisations”. “Rather than ignoring (difference), we should be using it as a competitive advantage,” Wittenberg-Cox says. With women comprising a significant part of the talent pool – and market – there’s a powerful business case for such an approach. “Bilingualism” is now a management competency, she says: “We need to equip managers with the skills to manage both genders.”

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