Hiring and empowering women leaders isn’t just a matter of equity. It’s common sense. Women in leadership bring monumental value to businesses. Recruiting for gender diversity and investing in employee development for female leaders are investments in corporate brands, innovation and financial performance.

There’s ample proof that empowered women leaders build a more engaged and productive workforce. Before digging into the evidence, though, let’s talk terminology. In conversations about the future of work and its current shortcomings, the words empowerment and engagement are tossed around quite a bit these days. It’s easy to conflate these similar-sounding terms, but their specific meanings diverge.

Empowerment is the distribution of power, rewards and information. Engagement, on the other hand, is the motivation to do something with those resources. Another crucial term is innovation, the conversion of new ideas to new resources, goods and services. Lastly, there’s branding — the promise a company makes to the market and, ideally, the fulfillment of that promise.

Gender Diversity Matters More Than Ever

The nuances of the terms mentioned above are important. An organization must both empower women as leaders and engage them in its success. In this respect, they can be instrumental.

Here are three key reasons why businesses would be remiss not to invest in leadership training for women:

1. Society is changing rapidly. Conversations about race, gender, politics and justice are swiftly evolving. That puts businesses in a precarious position. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once said that company culture must reflect societal culture at large: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Women leaders are well-versed in how to adapt.

As the U.S. (and the world) evolves, employees of different backgrounds are coming to work with new expectations about what matters, what success means and what role work should play in their lives. Meanwhile, consumers expect companies to do more than just pay lip service to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). They expect systemic change.

Companies can sync up with the rate of change in the outside world by investing in women leaders. The 2022 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and LeanIn.Org, which included information from 333 participating organizations and surveyed more than 40,000 employees, found that women leaders, compared with men at the same level, work harder to support employee well-being and cultivate DEI. That type of effort significantly bolsters employee satisfaction and retention. More on that later.

2. Empowered, visible women in leadership bolster branding and growth. We’re amid a revolution of rising expectations. Brands are under pressure to put their money where their mouth is. While consumers expect inclusive marketing, surface-level diversity alone won’t cut it. A Deloitte survey of 11,500 global consumers found that 57% were more loyal to brands that actually commit to addressing social inequities through direct actions.

One way to actively promote equity is through more diverse hiring and retention. Diversity includes factors like race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and diverse abilities, among other aspects of identity. Gender plays an enduring role in workforce diversity. Women are drastically underrepresented in leadership positions, the McKinsey and LeanIn.Org report notes, even more are women of color. Only one in four C-suite executives is a woman, and just one in 20 is a woman of color. What’s more, of late, businesses are having a hard time retaining the few women leaders in their ranks.

Companies that hire, empower, promote and retain diverse women leaders signal to consumers that they can walk the walk, rather than just talking the talk. Data from the Deloitte survey reveals that high-growth brands — those with annual revenue growth of 10% or more — establish key performance metrics for DEI objectives more frequently than low-growth brands.

3. In today’s diminished workforce, companies need engaged employees. The U.S. is being squeezed by a labor shortage. Participation in the workforce is still below pre-pandemic numbers: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes that there are 3.3 million fewer Americans working right now compared to February 2020. With fewer people working, it’s critical that those employees who remain are engaged.

Women are proven super-engagers. Evidence shows that women are highly engaged; according to the McKinsey and LeanIn.Org report, employees say women managers are more likely to not only check on their well-being, but also to help employees manage workloads and promote inclusivity. In other words, women managers invest more time in their people, and managers play a major part in employees’ happiness and enthusiasm about work.

An engaged and respectful manager can spur deeper engagement in her team to go above and beyond. Heightened engagement sparks increased innovation and better performance and ultimately strengthens a business’s bottom line.

Take Steps To Develop Women in Leadership

Work isn’t working for everyone and hasn’t been for a long time. Empowered, engaged women have the capacity to close the gap between the way work is now, with its age-old imbalances, inequities and blind spots, and the way work should be: equitable, inclusive and cognizant of employees’ individual talents and passions.

But women leaders can’t and shouldn’t shoulder the labor of corporate culture change alone. It’s imperative that companies recruit and hire diverse women leaders; invest in their training and growth; recognize and reward their engagement and DEI efforts; and promote accordingly.  Corporate policies, culture and business plans must demonstrate a sustained commitment to equity and evolution.

As the world changes, work must change, too. Businesses that ignore or resist this cultural shift do so at their own risk.

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