Despite decades of slow improvement, gender balance is still a serious problem for businesses in many industries. While women represent over 47 per cent of Australia’s workforce (and a rough average globally), a recent survey by Adecco group found that the workforces of more than half of businesses consisted of fewer than 40 per cent women. Many industries are still heavily male-dominated, particularly when it comes to leadership. Only 20 per cent of ASX 200 executive management positions are held by women. Even more surprisingly, fewer than 5 percent of their CEOs are women.

This exposes a fundamental problem for businesses: They’re failing to take advantage of a critical resource. According to multiple studies by Harvard Business Review and BI Norwegian Business School, women tend to be better leaders than their male counterparts. More importantly, research shows that women tend to exhibit traits that promote healthier company cultures while also boosting innovation and productivity. While traditional corporate culture often keeps women from meeting their potential, businesses need women at every level to ensure their competitiveness in the future.

Traditional corporate culture is in need of an upgrade

Studies have long shown that the cutthroat, take-no prisoners, competitive culture that dominated businesses in the 20th century was as unproductive as it was stressful. This type of toxic culture encouraged employees to focus primarily on their personal success, rather than that of their team, or their employer. Employees who are primarily competing against each other can’t communicate effectively, or work together to innovate solutions for fear of being taken advantage of by their coworkers or superiors. Moreover, this type of culture frequently results in a hostile work environment for women, driving them out of industries that already suffer from serious gender imbalances.

To combat this issue, many businesses have been actively working to dismantle toxic cultures, and to promote a healthier, more inclusive, and more productive environment for their employees. First and foremost, this means working to improve communication and cooperation in their workplaces. This promotes the exchange of ideas, helping people to share knowledge and skills to become more efficient, while promoting collective success over individual accomplishments. A key factor in addressing this cultural problem is gender balance.

Women disproportionately exhibit critical cultural skills and qualifications

A study of 3000 managers by BI Norwegian Business School found that women outperformed men in 4 out of 5 assessment categories. A survey of over 7000 leaders by Harvard Business Review found that women scored higher than men in 12 out of 16 categories. While these studies didn’t agree on all points, some decisive differences stand out clearly. Women are significantly better than their male counterparts when it comes to communicating clearly, networking, developing their own skills and those of others, and exhibiting sociable and supportive behavior toward coworkers and subordinates. On top of this, they displayed greater initiative than men in setting and pursuing goals.

These are, incidentally, all skills and qualities that business leaders are pushing to advance within their organisations to build a healthy, innovative, and productive company culture, as well as stronger client relationships. This suggests that addressing the issue of gender balance within an organisation, particularly regarding leadership roles, could have a significant impact on a business’ culture.

Promoting more women is the key to progress

Women are still underrepresented in most industries. This is due to many factors, ranging from broad and subtle societal influences to straightforward gender discrimination. In some cases, entire industries have developed a reputation for misogyny, to the point where few women even attempt to pursue careers in them. Regardless of the cause, the solution is the same. Businesses need more women in leadership.

This allows them to identify and deal with the systemic issues that are keeping them from achieving a healthy gender balance at all levels of their organisations. While male-led businesses may be aware of gender discrimination on an abstract level, they are rarely confronted with the effect this has on female employees and their larger company culture. The result is a gender balance that becomes ever more skewed. Female leaders, on the other hand, often have personal experience with the issue at hand, and can more accurately judge what to do about it in order to create a positive work environment for women.

Businesses have been struggling to address cultural issues for decades, despite the proven benefits of diversity, whether that’s in terms of gender, race, nationality, or age. While developing a healthy culture is typically a slow process, addressing gender balance is one key way to get started. Not only does it help businesses to address one particular diversity issue head-on, it also provides teams with more of the skills they need to improve their cultures going forward.