Why Women in the Workplace Matter

Why Women in the Workplace Matter

In honor of International Women’s Day this upcoming Sunday, here are some ways you can recognize gender diversity, and an interview with president of North America at Werner Co, Angie Sheehan.

Women make up 50 percent of the workforce—but they make up a small fraction of leadership positions in most industries. This Sunday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, and it is perfect timing to talk about the importance of gender diversity and equality in the workforce.

International Women’s Day is not about women’s superiority to men—a common misconception. Instead, it’s about equal rights for all genders and sexes, and about bringing awareness to areas this society could improve on—like hiring more women and encouraging more women to seek leadership positions.

According to one article, International Women’s Day has a pretty fascinating history. Way back in 1909, the socialist party of America organized its first national women’s day to commemorate a garment worker’s strike in New York in 1908 where women protested working conditions. International Women’s Day was official in 1911 to honor the women’s rights movement sweeping across the Americas and Europe at the time—and it soon had global impacts, including a way many protested World War I.

In 1975, the UN officially made March 8 the date of International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter—a campaign to build a gender-balanced world.

And a gender-balanced world is still very needed. Despite progress, more girls than boys still remain out of school, one source reports. Across the world, 500 million women still lack basic reading and writing skills. Women make up a whopping 64 percent of the world’s illiterate population. Only 23 percent of the world’s politicians are women.

However, there is hope—and International Women’s Day is one way you can add to that hope. The COO of Facebook, Sandberb, said, “In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”

I asked Angie Sheehan, president of North America at WernerCo, some questions to get some personal insight about International Women’s Day, women in the workplace, and her own experience as a female leader.

What is International Women’s Day? What does it mean to you personally, as a woman and president of a large company?  

“International Women’s Day brings awareness to the importance of a gender-balanced workplace and workplace equality,” Sheehan said. “It certainly calls us to reflect on how we are driving initiatives that increase gender balance and equality and what we can do better, not only as leaders, but as women sponsoring and supporting other women.”    

This year’s global campaign is #BalanceforBetter to help build a gender-balanced world. Why is gender balance in companies important? 

“There are plenty of studies from reputable experts in the diversity space, like McKinsey and BCG, that show organizations led by gender-diverse teams yield better financial results than the industry average,” Sheehan said.

She’s right. In fact, one study looked at 800 business units from two companies representing two industries: retail and hospitality. The results? Gender-diverse units have better financial outcomes than those dominated by one gender.

Gender-diverse business units in the trail company have 14 percent higher average comparable revenue than less-diverse business units (5.24 percent vs.4.58 percent). Gender-diverse business units in the hospitality company show 19 percent higher average quarterly net profit ($16,296 vs $13,702) than less-diverse business units.

“But, it’s not just about financials,” Sheehan said. “Attracting diverse teams allows organizations to cast a wider net in the overall talent pool. If organizations are not intentional about attracting women, they are missing out on 50 percent of the workforce. It is equally as important to provide a work environment that allows women to contribute and maximize their potential so they are retained once onboarded.”

Men and women have different viewpoints, strengths, ideas, and insights, and having both represented in a company increases productivity and innovation.

Do you have any statistics or facts about gender diversity or women in the workplace that surprise or concern you?

“I think what’s most surprising is how much energy and effort has been spent promoting gender diversity and women’s leadership initiatives; and yet, results come at a very slow pace. For example, in 2019, the number of female CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies reached an all-time high. But still, that number is only 6.6 percent,” she said.

And she’s right: there is still considerable work to be done. But recognizing prejudices or gaps within your own workplace is a step in the right direction.

What kind of changes can be made to workplace culture and environment to support/ensure gender diversity all year long?   

“It starts with being intentional about gender diversity in the recruiting process. Saying that ‘we tried’ to find female candidates isn’t enough. If organizations are truly committed to changing their demographics, they have to insist there is a gender diverse group of candidates on the final interview slate.”  

Creating a culture that is inclusive, respectful and non-prejudiced is necessary. Make sure you actively work to have a gender-diverse workforce. If you don’t your company will be significantly less successful.

“If you surround yourself with people who look like you, walk like you, talk like you, went to the same schools as you, had the same experiences growing up as you, you will have the very same blind spots as each other. You will miss the same trends. You will miss the same curves in the road,” said Ajay Banja, President & CEO of Mastercard.

Inclusion extends to so many things. This does not involve just maternity leave, Banja continues. This includes paternity leave too. Men should receive the same amount of paternity leave as women (usually 16 weeks).

Do you have a female role model, or someone you are inspired by that’s relevant to International Women’s Day?  

“I have an amazing network of friends. These women are leaders in a variety of professions, active in the community, and not just mothers, but outstanding role models for their children,” Sheehan said. “I am inspired by what they are able to accomplish on a daily basis and the impact they have on their workplaces, communities, and their families. They understand the importance of women supporting other women and have been my biggest cheerleaders and inspiration to continue raising the bar.”

That’s really what Sunday, March 8 is all about: building each other up, making sure every voice is heard and celebrating gender equality in and out of the workplace.

Angie started with WernerCo in November 2018. As President, she has led the transformation of the North America business with a focus on new product innovation and developing a high-performance, results-driven culture. Prior to WernerCo, Angie was VP/GM ITW’s Renovation/Remodeling division—a business that provided the top brands in engineered fasteners to the US Home Center channel.   She has also held roles as Vice President of Sales for TOMY International and Director of Marketing/New Product Development with Elkay Manufacturing. The majority of her career was spent with Newell Rubbermaid Office Products where she held roles of increasingly responsibility across the sales, marketing, supply chain and IT functions. Her last role with Newell Rubbermaid was Director, Customer Supply Chain.

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