Gender diversity in the company: specialization or complementarity?

Kevin Savio Marc Coutinho and José Luis Silvestre. Collaborators with the Centre for Diversity. Instituto de Empresa.

21 February 2005

Women have an active position in the world economy, representing 40 percent of the global workforce. Despite decades of efforts however, the fair sex still encounters difficulties when accessing certain posts.

The media recently reported that Lawrence Summers, one of the world’s most prestigious economists and president of Harvard University, defended the scientific superiority of men over women (1). Meanwhile, scientists believe there is a correlation between companies with greater gender diversity (more women employees), and those that obtain better results (2).

The presence of females hovers around 30 percent of all management positions, and only 5 percent of women hold jobs of great responsibility (3). This is what A.M. Morrison, R.P. White and E. Van Velsor called in 1992 the glass ceiling.

In Spain, a Jan. 2005 Manpower study showed that women earn 34 percent less than men, an inequality that reaches 50 percent in the private sector, and 10.7 percent in the public sector. (See attachment)

The report, Gender inequality in salary, said, “Women work mainly in the public sector, are higher qualified professionals, have fewer years of experience in their profession, hold fewer management positions, work fewer hours – mainly in small enterprises – and earn less money than men (4).”

Why the anti-female discrimination? Summers called women “less prepared to work long hours, owing to the responsibility they have for looking after the children.” He further identified “genetic differences” that explain a greater male aptitude for science and mathematics.

In other words, on one hand, social factors exert pressure on women to assume a certain role; while on the other, a female way of thinking is conditioned by their genetics. Women have more points of connection between the right and left sides of the brain, which means they are more capable of performing several operations at once. They have greater capacity for verbal expression, compared to the better spatial vision men enjoy.

Companies need not agree with Summers’ negative view, or adopt a gender specialization plan for tasks or relegate women to traditional areas. An alternative is perhaps more interesting when considering gender management inside a company: this is the challenge of incorporating all the potential women can provide into business management.

For this to happen, policies must be developed to remove social barriers. This means making efforts to adopt flexibility and reconciliation policies that remove, once and for all, the alternative between life and work. These policies can be applied to other workers, to enable greater commitment and productivity

Furthermore, a “female style” must be opened, valued and integrated into the management system. Such a style should not be exclusive to women however, but characterized by an overall orientation toward relations, empathy, coordination, integration, personal development and intuition. These qualities would give the firm a vision that is complementary to the traditional view, not one that would replace it. It would define a greater, more detailed framework of analysis, and better position the company to respond to challenges put forth by the new environment.

(1)El País. Wednesday, 19 January 2005. “The President of Harvard defends the scientific superiority of men.”
The Guardian. Tuesday, 18 January 2005. “Harvard president condemned for ‘offensive speech’.”
The Harvard Crimson. 19 January 2005. “Summers draws fire for remarks on women. Private talk at economics conference spirals into national debacle”
(2)The Bottom Line. Connecting Corporate Performance and Gender Diversity. Catalyst. January 2004
(3)ILO. Time for Equality at Work. 2003
(4)Manpower Labour Index: Gender inequality of salary.

IE’s Centre for Diversity was established to promote the diversity management of gender, culture, age and competencies as a competitive advantage in the corporate world through reflection, knowledge creation and the diffusion of knowhow.



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