Christine Lagarde at the IMF, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, are three very high profile women, and leaders on the world stage. They certainly aren’t alone: U.S. President Obama’s choices of Janet Yellen to be chairman of the Federal Reserve and Penny Pritzker to serve as commerce secretary put women in two prestigious and very visible positions. Don’t forget the president of Brazil, or the prime minister of Denmark. And, looking ahead to the 2016 U.S. presidential race….well it’s premature to speculate.
So we have major nations and global institutions, dealing with mind-boggling, earth-shaking issues, representing a huge variety of stakeholders, who vary by age, race, class and priorities.
And these organizations are now led by women.
Compare that to the business world, or, closer to my home, to the commercial real estate industry. Traditionally, it was a club run – and mostly populated – by men. That may have been because most of those men’s clients were other men. So it’s instructive that Ms. Pritzker, who comes from a real estate family, is now charged with promoting U.S. business interests.
Yes, the situation is improving – frequently at the top. In our own company, the Chairman of our Board of Directors is a woman (and yes, she prefers the ‘Chairman’ title), as is our Chief Financial Officer and several members of our senior management team. More and more of our executives around the world – male and female alike – actively mentor women, and that translates into stronger professional relationships, increased engagement and higher promotion and retention. They’re slowly building more diverse teams to win and execute business opportunities.
But challenges remain. In the U.S., for example, where around 60 percent of college graduates are women, the number represented in the national workforce is just over 45 percent, and much less than that in commercial real estate. I suspect that, in many industries, the issue is often attracting talented women early in their careers and then engaging, motivating and retaining them as they move up through the organization. Recognizing this at our company, we see improving our numbers of women and minorities at all levels as a strategic priority, just like taking market share and increasing profits.
Why does this rise to this level of importance for us? As a service company, we live or die on the talent of our people. To attract the best, we need to fish in the entire gene pool and not miss good people because of gender, race, age, sexual orientation or any other label. And to compete effectively, we need to look like the world in which we, and our clients, live and work. That doesn’t include being under-represented among roughly half the world’s population.
We’re in good company. The World Economic Forum clearly thinks gender equality is important. The organization, best known for its annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, recently issued its eighth annual Global Gender Gap Report, which compares 136 countries to assess progress on closing the gender gap.
This year’s report shows 86 countries narrowing the gender gap since 2012. The four highest-ranking countries – Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden – have nearly closed gender gaps in education and health. Each has more than 50 percent female representation in government positions. All have adopted proactive policies to enforce equal opportunity for women in the workplace. So it can be done.
In addition, the WEF’s Global Competitiveness Index shows a strong correlation between a country’s gender parity and its global competitiveness, indicating that parity is consistent with strong growth and business health.
So the lesson is that overlooking half the world’s population means overlooking half of our talent, and having diverse faces throughout a company supports competitiveness and growth. Just ask anyone who works with Suphin Mechuchep, who leads our business in Thailand. At the recent 2013 CEO Thailand Awards, she was named the best CEO – male or female – in the entire Thai business community. I could have told the men they didn’t stand a chance.
Read more blogs on gender.
This article first appeared in LinkedIn.
Author: Colin Dyer President & CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle, Incorporated
Image: A woman walks between buildings at Sanlitun SOHO residential and commercial complex in Beijing REUTERS/Jason Lee