This post is part of a four part series on Women in Innovation written by David Lucien Dallaire, Founder and Principal of Fennec Consulting.
Recognize Individuals, But Work For Everyone Else
While our topic “Women In Innovation” implies a focus on individual women – recognizing their work, raising their profiles, etc. But one aspect of that train of thought is that it also implies the onus for becoming an over-achiever on par with their better-known male counterparts is entirely on them.
While there is no shortage of accomplished individuals to talk about, today we will focus on the bigger picture – just how do we go about creating the conditions that nurture great women innovators? This is perhaps the most critical area to look at when we examine relative scarcity of women innovators (real or just unrecognized). Two recent articles in the Economist highlight very clearly an area where everyone – governments, private enterprise, individuals – can contribute: the everyday workplace environment.
Innovating an Entry Point From The Ground Up
To start with, it’s important to look at the issue from the ground-up. While there is a lot of angst around many cultures about the low participation rates of women in management or on international business consultantexecutive boards, it’s not the most important thing if there is low participation in the workforce to start with. Without deeper and wider acceptance of women in the various roles that exist across an industry, the road to management becomes very narrow and crowded.
For example, if a technology company fills only 10% of its engineering roles with women, it becomes very difficult for that company to every achieve a reasonable level of balance in management. If they were being pro-active and targeted 30% of their future management roles for women, is that helping or hurting them? They might end up hurting their female employees because they are more likely to bring some into management to satisfy a target rather than to improve their management team. Promoting people, male or female, not trained, ready and able to manage into management is a good way to lose them.
What’s really important is that they focus on making it acceptable to have women in every role in the company – be it engineer, mechanic, welder, forklift operator or whatever. As long as there are distinctions about what is “male” work, industries that rely heavily on those roles as sources for management will not nurture women innovators, nor many managers. In Brazil, a non-profit program called “Get Your Hands Dirty” is changing attitudes by providing training for women in what are traditionally considered “male” professions – like bricklaying (see complete article).
Women in Management as a Strategic Resource
Programs like the one in Brazil create the “ground-up” conditions needed to raise workforce participation levels for women globally. But workforce participation does not translate directly into more management roles as evidenced by a recent McKinsey report that studied 744 large companies and interviewed 1500 executives in 10 different Asian countries (see complete article).
According to the study, taking into account well-known common factors such as managing a household while working, etc., the real reason management participation rates for women in Asia is so much worse than in other regions is simply because executives do not see it as a strategic priority there. In other words, simply by recognizing there is value to your business by developing a more balanced management team, you can make changes happen.
Three “Innovations” For ANY Business
Three things stand out here for employers:
- Prioritize as a Strategy – Much of your diversity challenge can be addressed by making it part of your strategic priorities and creating accountability for getting it done. Where you already have a large percentage of female employees this will make the process much easier. Anyone acting as a “Chief Customer Officer” would find it easy to do this, but it should be a priority for the entire C-Suite.
- Recognize the Advantage – Hiring more women and bringing them into management will actually serve as a strategic advantage, particularly in regions like Asia where their is so much talent wasted on the sidelines. Foreign companies in Japan have known this for years, and even a local powerhouse, Shiseido, has benefited enormously from its deliberate approach to developing their female management teams.
- Leverage the Motivation – In your emerging markets operations, it might be even more important for you to start immediately with a more balanced approach as surveys consistently show that a larger percentage of women in those markets aspire to management roles than their Western counterparts.
So while “Innovation” might always imply a look at some remarkable individuals, let’s also remember that there are ways to “Innovate” in hiring, training and developing of talent that will perhaps not win Nobel Prizes or other awards, but will have a far greater payback in the workplace in the long term.
Be part of a unique opportunity to share more untold stories on women in innovation. On September 22, 2012, Seattle will be hosting the first-ever “Women in Innovation Summit”. This special event will bring together 400 people from all over the world who will combine energies to raise the profile for those history may have bypassed and create the framework to better recognize innovators among us today and inspire those of tomorrow.
David Dallaire, Founder and Principal of Fennec Consulting, is a veteran of both the start-up and Fortune 100 world, with extensive global experience in Management, Marketing Strategy and Operations. David helps his clients develop a “Customer-First” lens on their business that transforms their customers from “buyers” to “advocates”.