Recently, our WE blog has been looking closely at the changes organizations are making to bring more women into positions of advanced responsibility—whether it’s instilling quotas for more diverse boards or addressing workplace practices that impact men and women differently.
In Second-Generation Gender Bias – Parts I and II, we looked at what colleges like Harvard Business School and Simmons are doing to address biases on campuses, and discussed what individuals and corporations could do to address workplace biases. In From Athletics to Leadership, we observed how sports have helped to prepare women for leadership—even if incidentally.
These measures are all important. However, to complete the transformation toward gender equality, I believe we must begin even earlier—with girls.
Let me explain.
My youngest daughter is a student at a large Boston university. She resides with three other young women—all university students. Across the street, there are four young men—again, all university students. These are all bright kids by the way. So one day the 8 of them were enjoying pizza at a local place, and I happened to be there. I asked the four women if they knew the difference between a stock and a bond—one student, whose dad happens to be a hedge fund manager, knew the difference; the others did not. I posed the same question to the guys. It was the opposite: three knew the difference, and one didn’t.
Why is that?
Perhaps it’s rooted in what we’ve been expecting all along from them since an early age based on gender—and how we have been engaging them as a result. Discrepancies like these led me to join the board of a nonprofit called Invest in Girls (IIG). A 501(c)(3) organization, IIG teaches high school girls financial concepts and exposes them to professional female role models. IIG also introduces young women to financial services companies and career paths in finance, and empowers them to take on leadership.
This is not only a matter of fairness. Research shows that companies with more than three women in management positions tend to have better return on equity and assets than do those with fewer women.i These progressive companies value diverse talents and perspectives. To speak to their customer base, they must look like their customer base—at all levels of the organization. And now, driven by more intense pressure for boards to diversify, increasingly more companies are growing their pools of highly qualified women.
There is no doubt then that girls growing up today will have more opportunities than their mothers ever did. By working together, businesses, schools, and communities can bring about the momentum needed to help young women take advantage of the important roles that await them.