On International Women’s Day: Why We Can’t Afford to Lose Women at Work

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Back in the late 1980s, a VP that I reported to found one of his star account teams struggling with a brand. 

The struggle isn’t a big surprise when you hear that the team’s makeup was all men, and the audience the brand was for (people who use feminine products) was most definitely not. 

It sounds so obvious in the light of 2022. But it sure does illustrate an important truth about gender diversity: modern business can’t function without it.

This flies in the face of how gender equity (all forms of equity) can so often be presented – for the sake of equity itself. Hire more women! Get more in the C-suite! Get women to hire more women! All good ideas. But this isn’t an issue about women (or just women). It’s an issue about representation and about progress and ensuring our businesses reflect the people we serve.  

Women are half the population; they’re half of potential consumers; they’re half of the knowledge base, and so they’re half the potential ideas and the innovations that could be percolating in your workforce. Limit their participation, and you’ve denied yourself a sizeable source of contributions. And that’s not just bad for women – it’s just plain bad business.

How bad? A few years ago, one study called women “The most underutilized economic asset in the world,” adding that they’re “the key to unlocking U.S. GDP growth.” Another showed that a 30% rise in women leaders is linked to a 15% rise in profits. Yet right now, with pandemic-related exits, women’s workforce participation has dropped to levels not seen since that 1980s VP gathered his all-male band. And it will take a deliberate effort to bring them back. 

So as we celebrate International Women’s Day today, remember that inclusion – not just women, but inclusion of all – isn’t merely for the sake of inclusion; it’s for the sake of the very best ideas that included people bring with them. It’s for the sake of the unique understanding they provide our organizations. It’s for the sake of the diversity of ideas that makes us all better. So supporting more women in business; encouraging more women in the c-suite; ensuring that women bring in more women is the starting point for better business. 

If all that’s not enough, remember that women are a big part of the marketplace, accounting for more than 70% of sales (and not just for women-centric products). “Imagine,” wrote Inc. not long ago, “the market gaps in consumer needs yet to fill – and the opportunity for profit.” Imagine indeed. 

That means there’s an enormous market share up for grabs; a segment of products and services that need to be effectively aimed at women. And that’s not so easy to do without women’s voices in the mix. 

How not so easy? 

Just ask that VP.

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Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

March 1, 2022

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.