Gender diversity is often identified as a top priority for senior management. However, implementation continues to be the biggest challenge.
This was the topic of a spirited conversation on May 19th at the inaugural French American Business Week panel “The Positive Impact of Women in Business,” held at the French Embassy in Washington D.C. Andree Simon, FINCA Microfinance Holding Company’s Co-CEO, joined fellow panelists to discuss how to increase gender diversity in business and combat the stigmas that impede women’s empowerment on a global scale. Hosted by the French American Chamber of Commerce, the panel included Sherry Hewitt, COO and CFO of Make-A-Wish Foundation Mid-Atlantic, and Aurelia Lamorre-Cargill, CEO of Argon Capital Management. The panel was moderated by Charlotte Raab, Markets & Business Reporter at AFP.
Unconscious bias can result in a lack of movement towards accelerating change. Achieving gender parity will continue to be a challenge until social stigmas and policies are revisited—including granting men equal paternity leave and dissipating the unconscious bias that women cannot be good mothers while also working full-time jobs, Aurelia commented.
The panelists agreed there is a need for more concrete data on how women benefit business performance. Research has shown that women make or influence 70-80% of purchasing decisions. As a result, Walmart is placing more females in leadership positions so that management may better understand its consumers.
“At FINCA, where over 50% of our clients are women, we need to employ women who understand our business,” Andree explained. “It is not only the right thing to do from a social perspective, but also from a financial one.”
Companies and organizations base business decisions on facts; if there is more data available that supports the positive impact of including women in business—especially at the decision-making levels, more companies will be apt to accelerate the changes needed to increase women’s empowerment. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently allocated $80 million to research the impact of women in business and close gender data gaps.
The panel also discussed the influence of politics and leadership roles on how societies perceive female empowerment. A study in India revealed that when women hold senior leadership positions, parents are more likely to send their daughters to school. Additionally, Andree noted, that if more women are in senior-level positions at a company, hiring managers are quicker to put other women in power and accelerate change.
“We have to empower women everywhere to achieve change—through financial inclusion, education and engagement,” Andree said.