Proportion is a key element in so many aspects of life. Without proportion, food can be unpalatable, traffic can be unmanageable and clothes might not fit. Unfortunately, we often do not take proportion into consideration when we form groups, hire employees or make business decisions.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, #Balanceforbetter, proposes that a balanced world – a world in which elements are of equal proportion – is a better world for all of us. In keeping with this theme, I believe it is time to consider proportion in business.
Proportion forces us to ask if we have the right elements for good decisions. Those elements include having the right people with the right mix of backgrounds, experiences and opinions to make thoughtful and effective decisions. The right proportion hedges against group-think and consensus without proper discourse. Proportion also brings the diversity of thought needed to make sure businesses are solving the problems that matter to their constituents, rather than the problems that matter to a limited set of decision makers.
For example, what if an all-male advisory group makes decisions on a new maternity leave policy, or an all-female advisory group decides on a new paternity leave policy? In both cases, the stakeholder group that would be the beneficiary of the new policy is not represented. By not having an advisory group made up of the right proportions, the group is at risk of making decisions that leave out critical elements or that solve for something that is not considered a problem. An all-male group could assume that female employees want longer bonding periods and ignore the need for female employees to be connected to the business. An all-female group could underestimate the need for longer bonding periods for male employees. Proposing solutions to problems without a full perspective can have a lasting, negative impact on a business.
This impact can be felt in numerous ways. Employees can become disinterested, unmotivated and leave their “best selves” at home. They can speak out negatively about the policies on social media, which affects recruiting, or they can seek different employment. All of these negative behaviors can cause a decline in productivity and revenue, and therefore increase cost. According to a 2018 McKinsey report, companies with low levels of gender and ethnic diversity are 29% more likely to underperform their industry peers on profitability.
With a little effort and thought, a balanced team can have the opposite effect. In the case of the previous examples, a few things could improve the outcome. The obvious solution is to add members to the advisory board that represent a diversity of genders and backgrounds. This will immediately bring a different perspective to the problem at hand and provide a sounding board for solutions. If bringing diversity to the advisory board is not possible, the board could proactively seek input and feedback from a diverse set of employees. Those employees, once bought in, could champion new ideas, infusing the process with varied thoughts and voices.
Balance is not easy. It takes thought, careful planning and practice. Balance is also not something that can be consistently maintained without oversight and monitoring. I believe that one way to include gender balance in business is to consider proportion. Taking the ideas mentioned above and including a team that represents the customers, employees or stakeholders we are trying to serve is critical. If we think about including the right people, the people that look and think like those we are supporting, we will by default increase the effectiveness of our decisions, gain buy-in from stakeholders and provide a business environment that strives to stay in balance.
Balance is not easy. It takes thought, careful planning and practice. Balance is also not something that can be consistently maintained without oversight and monitoring. I believe that one way to include gender balance in business is to consider proportion.