Why entrepreneurs and leaders should think like parents

It was with great pride that recently, on International Women’s Day, RFi Group posted this infographic:

Since then we have been inundated with messages via social media and face to face and while many were complimentary - some of them, rather depressingly, have had a kind of confused bafflement to them and have asked the simple but perplexing question of; “Why to be gender diverse – what’s the point?”.

Putting aside the vast volumes of research that prove without the doubt the benefits to any organisation of gender diversity, I am reminded of a recent TEDtalk by the excellent Simon Sinek on leadership. In it, he points out that if as a parent you hit hard times you wouldn’t put one of your children up for adoption or sell them so that the rest of you could continue your current lifestyle; So, why when companies hit hard economic times, do leaders lay off employees?  Instead, he believes leaders need to protect their communities and make employees feel safe, which you’re not doing if you make swathes of people redundant whenever the hard times hit.  This is a great point and I think you can take this parenting metaphor and apply it equally well to the benefits of gender diversity.

Many people feel that children growing up should have both male and female role models. The reason for this is that it provides a balanced set of viewpoints for the child as they are growing up and hopefully, ultimately, produces a well-rounded balanced adult. As a parent, I know how crucial this is.  Whenever there is an issue with any of my children, I know that my wife and I will often have very different views on how to deal with it.  Sometimes one of us will have a great idea and the other, not a clue.  Sometimes we will have almost polar opposite views.  Sometimes our views will instantly be in agreement.  Whichever way it is, we then - through discussion - arrive at what we feel is the best outcome for our child.

As an entrepreneur and leader, you spend most of your time dealing with problems – some small, some big – but most days are a never-ending stream of issues that need dealing with.  If you are in a fast-growing business, then the speed at which they arrive and need to be dealt with quickly with an optimum outcome increases and so too does the pressure to get it right. So surely it makes sense to have as many views/ solutions as possible to achieve this.  Why would you through lack of gender diversity instantly cut off 50% of the potential solutions?

As a parent, you don’t ever say to your partner: “I’m sorry, but I have no interest in your view on this, I am going to make this decision by myself regarding our child/ children without any consultation with you”. Aside from not wanting to seriously annoy your partner, the reason we don’t do this is that it would be incredibly foolish and short-sighted. It would also potentially produce an extremely one dimensional, narrow-minded child. So, why do we do the equivalent all the time in business and think it’s ok?

Every time we have an all-male board, an all-male management team, a male leader who doesn’t receive or listen to any female viewpoint, we are placing ourselves in a similar situation as the parent who says to the other parent “I don’t care about your thoughts or input on anything to do with raising our children!”. We don’t do this as it produces less than optimum solutions and can produce dysfunctional children and surely, for the same reason, we don’t want to produce less than optimum solutions for our business and ultimately produce dysfunctional teams/ businesses?

Gender Diversity is good for many reasons and diversity of thought is critical. Over thousands of years as humans we have learnt that diversity of thought produces the best, most balanced solutions to challenges of raising children, hence the well-known African proverb: 'It takes a village to raise a child'. For exactly the same reasons, gender diversity in business will give it an advantage over other non-diverse businesses, producing wider, better, more balanced solutions to every problem, as well as more balanced and effective teams.

If you like this blog, find it useful, or think it’s interesting, please share it and if you have any questions at all please feel free to comment – I am always open to a conversation.

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