Numerous studies have documented the direct, positive correlation between the participation of women on the boards and senior management teams and overall organizational performance (see: Central Ohio Leadership Census).
Many of these studies acknowledge that this research does not prove causation; such is difficult in any situation outside of randomized, controlled experimentation. The strength of the correlation, however, is reinforced by a number of factors that are evident from the scope of research I’ve tracked over the years.
When is Correlation Enough?
A Harvard Business Review blog from earlier this year attempted to address the issue of when a correlation can be used in decision making. The author, David Rittter of the Boston Consulting Group, identified two factors that can provide guidance when evaluating correlative data.
Factor 1: Will the correlation reliably recur in the future?
The depth and breadth of the research on the presence of women in leadership and the impact on organizational performance strongly suggests that research will continue to show a strong, positive relationship between these two factors.
Results over time
The earliest studies date back to the early 2000s (20 years after women became the majority of college students and graduates, giving them enough “time in the pipeline” to reach senior leadership levels in organizations). The presence of diversity and performance metrics analyzed in these studies date back to as early as the late 1980s.
Diversity of organizations/individuals conducting this research
The diversity of entities conducting this research also lends credibility to the correlation between organizational performance and the presence of women in leadership. Academic researchers, business consulting organizations, executive search firms, governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations, including but certainly not limited to organizations that promote the advancement of women, have all conducted these studies with similar results.
Number of companies included in the research
The number of companies included in this research has varied from as few as 200 companies to as many as 4000 (and counting). The larger studies have often featured expanded geographic scope and/or more variation in the size of the companies.
Again, the geographic scope of this research has varied from companies based in a single country to comparisons of data for a globally diverse set of companies.
Factor 2: What is the reward of basing action on the correlation vs. the risk?
With their education levels, their control of consumer spending and family decision-making, the percentage who are the primary breadwinners in their families, their presence among the voting public, and the varied perspectives that result from the way we socialize women, the potential rewards of including women in leadership roles are significant.
The risks of not acting are that we will continue to address the issues we face in our families, organizations and countries utilizing just 49% of the talent pool and 49% of the brain power available to us. In the thirteen years that I’ve been asking the question, “what if half of the leaders in the world were women?”, I have yet to find a person who thinks things would be worse than they are today.
Finally, even if the lack of a causal relationship is enough for some to argue against the need to promote more women to leadership positions, there is an undeniable element of social justice – we have a right to be at the table. We are half the population, more than half of the voting public, over half of the college graduates at every level, and nearly 50% of the workforce. We have a right to be at the table.