The Gender Dividend

We need to reinvest in our entrepreneurial women

Back Commentary Sep 1, 2013 By Winnie Comstock-Carlson

The so-called “gender dividend” seems to be in the news these days. Research, public officials and corporate leaders are all exploring how  women could spur greater economic growth.

Aren’t women already a major part of our national economy? They’re half of the workforce, account for more than half of all college graduates and nearly half of all shareholders. They make 80 percent of all consumer purchases, from refrigerators to computers to medical services and wield purchasing power of more than $5 trillion.

Yet even though the original push for workplace equality came nearly 50 years ago, women still earn only 77 cents to every dollar made by their male colleagues.

Nationally, men make up 84 percent of corporate officers and 86.5 percent of line executives in Fortune 500 companies — and those figures haven’t budged since 2005. The Government Accounting Office reported only a 1 percent increase in the number of female managers in American companies between 2000 and 2007.

Until recently, the argument for more gender diversity in organizations was typically made on the basis of fairness and equity. But during the past decade or so, an increasing body of research argues the case for making targeted investments in developing women as senior leaders.

A study of 2,400 companies from 2005 to 2011 by international bank Credit Suisse showed net income growth averaged 14 percent for companies with women on their boards and just 10 percent for those without. Other studies show companies with three or more women on their boards outperform those with fewer on a number of measures, including return on equity and risk management.

Common sense tells us that organizations benefit from diversity of thought and leadership. Academics say a diversity of competent performers almost always outshines a homogenous group.

We know that talent is a critical success factor for our organizations. But, talented, ambitious women can be difficult to retain, especially in larger organizations where they can be frustrated by the lockstep process of climbing a rigidly defined career ladder.

The best often leave to start their own businesses. Here in our region, we can point to many women who own successful, small companies but few who hold senior positions in larger organizations. Nationally, more than 10 million female small-business owners generate nearly $2 trillion. Yet even here women don’t get the same resources as men. For one, female entrepreneurs land less than 5 percent of all venture capital.

So what can we do in our own organizations to find, develop and retain talented women?

First, we need to embrace different ways of looking at the world. We need to ask ourselves honestly if we are evaluating employees or new hires based on skills, knowledge and experience — or on gender.

Second, we need to make a real commitment to more flexible workplaces, so both women and men can build careers without sacrificing their commitment to their families. 

Third, we need to support those female entrepreneurs who choose to lead their own companies. We must evaluate them equitably as partners and vendors while also lobbying for equitable treatment in areas like financing.

We need business responses to a business problem — and a business opportunity. Staying competitive in today’s marketplace takes a focus on new leadership models. Two heads are definitely better than one, especially when one is female.

P.S.   Take another step in developing the women in your organization by sending them to our upcoming Capital Region’s Women’s Conference on Friday, Sept. 27.  For more information, including how to buy a block of tickets, visit


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