Gender issues in companies: the added value of diversity

Celia de Anca

24 February 2003

Firms that inaugurated reforms for their female employees have seen these measures expand to meet the needs of all workers, giving greater added value to each individual’s personal vision.

One’s 30s is a crucial decade for consolidation of any executive’s professional career and yet, it is precisely between the age of 30 and 40 when many women are most committed to the task of raising a family. In many cases, this causes significant conflicts, and compromises must be made between their personal and professional lives. On some occasions, it can even lead to abandonment of their professional career or total demotivation.

To avoid this loss of talented workers – and the resultant investment costs – major firms have, in recent years, begun implementing a process of reforms based around inclusion and diversity policies. From the original idea of offering support to female workers, their scope has been broadened to provide strategies for adapting to the specific needs of all employees, whether these are derived from gender or cultural issues or from any other form of diversity.

JP Morgan-Chase has been a pioneer in the field of diversity management, and it received due recognition for its work in 2001, when it was awarded the annual Catalyst Award. The policies, introduced in 1996 following the Chase-Chemical merger, combine a series of human-resources measures, including systems that allow for timetable flexibility and professional development planning, taking into account the different needs and possibilities of each professional.

[*D What today's firms need is the ability to manage diversity to achieve a comparative advantage *]

This principally involves promoting a change of culture, and a new business model capable of competing in a diverse, ever-changing marketplace. Human resources policies introduced by JP Morgan Chase or other leading firms in this field – BP, Shell, Bayer, American Express, Ford or Pfizer – are proposed by top management and implemented in departments created expressly for this purpose and which, in many cases, report to senior management. Employees are informed of this strategy change through diverse channels, as well as by training programs that, in many cases, are required for all personnel, from top management to administration staff.

Diversity exists. What today’s firms need is the ability to manage it successfully, to achieve a comparative advantage now, and to guarantee survival in a highly diversified market in the future.

When professionals join a company or new working group, they can – and should – provide an added value that is results from applying their own particular manner of understanding the working environment to a certain situation. This personal vision, born fundamentally out of their particular personality, culture and gender, explains the comparative advantage of diversity. This, of course, is in addition to contributing know-how, experience and technical skills.

The diversity of sensitivities, approaches and even the different ways of assessing and viewing the reality of situations can be a key resource for companies in the 21st century. However, this is only true if their executives are capable of successfully managing it, while fully understanding the differences involved and how these can complement each other. We are not therefore talking about a formula that can be applied and automatically provide benefits, but rather of a way of perceiving oneself and one’s surroundings. This is an approach that must be introduced both within firms themselves and in the teaching of management skills, since it is a fundamental quality that every executive must develop.


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