The business case is clear – 50% of the talent in the workforce and 50% of the global consumers are women. Furthermore, women are often the person in a household who directly or indirectly decides what products to buy and what investments to make. So as women get more and more buying and investment power, it will often be the businesses that are known for gender equality that will get positive attention. Further, it is a general trend for millennials, as 70% in 2014 reported that they’d be likely to make investments based on social issues, such as gender equality. So the ingredients in the business case are talent attraction, reputation and financial return. Apart from this there is a human return – as you will see your children grow up in a world where you know they are treated fairly.

Here is an example: A global beverage company launched a multi-country initiative to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs across its value chain by 2020. Among other things, the initiative provides women with business skills training courses, access to financial services and access to support networks of peers or mentors to address the barriers they face to business success. Needless to say that they build goodwill, great brand power and future talent pipeline with such initiatives.

Skroupa: You argue that women sometime should say no to Board positions, why is that?

Bank Jorgensen: As both the business case and soft and hard regulation point to having more women serve on boards, more women will be asked to serve – and that is a good thing. However, women, as well as men, will need to do their due diligence, and not just be flattered by being asked. I wouldn’t like to see women or men accept board positions and then face the growing risk of financial and reputational hardship that the ‘wrong’ board position could bring. As a facilitator for UN Global Compact Board Program, I see how boards of directors are under increasing scrutiny and increased pressure. A chairman once told me, “Today everything is 10 times as big, also 10 times as quick. Technology, mobility and digitalization keep everyone awake. It is easy to understand that CEOs and management can’t last as long as they used to, when transparency and knowledge were more limited.” When discussing the role of the Board, it is often clear that the board members have blind spots that, if not illuminated, can result in reputational damage, legal consequences, remuneration impact and removal from the board.

I also see how programs such as the Board Program can disrupt the normal thinking and bring insight that can help reduce risks and create opportunities. The Board Program enables all board members, including newly appointed women, to ask the key questions to disrupt group-thinking and bring value. But as mentioned, start by doing due-diligence and ensuring  you’re informed on the growing number of regulation that represents a civil and criminal liability if breaching the duty of care.

Skroupa: So what should we do to get to gender diversity?

Bank Jorgensen:  Besides the suggestions I’ve given earlier I would suggest five steps:

  1. Take stock – measure so you can manage.
  2. Identify, discuss and tackle the barriers in the organization – including the unconscious bias we all have.
  3. Show leadership – an honest dialogue with the leadership and a commitment from the c-suite and board of directors, combined with a well-thought-through action plan and clear goals and targets, are often necessary.
  4. Ensure the spoken and unspoken incentives are aligned with the goals – and treat all who do not comply as you would if they weren’t complying with the financial guidelines. In the end, if the diversity work is only an exercise in public relations, it could hurt the financials.
  5. Be accountable and transparent in your communications and reports on the challenges of instilling diversity in workplace culture. Collaborate with other companies to find and implement solutions that will make certain the company, suppliers, communities and future workplace eventually won’t need a diversity policy in place to ensure this.

On November 10, 2015, Skytop Strategies presents, “Gender Equality in the C-Suite and Boardroom,” hosted at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Chicago. Continue this discussion with Helle Bank Jorgensen and  120 institutional shareholders, diversity and search firm executives, practice experts, researchers and academics at this full-day symposium. To inquire about attending, contact Chris Pulliam, Director of Delegate Engagement, at cpulliam@skytopstrategies.com.