And the winner is...

And the winner is...

By Gabriele Schambach and Julia Nentwich
July 10, 2020


We are pleased that the Handelszeitung as our project partner has published this article in an abridged version in the print edition on 16. July and on 29. July 2020 in the online edition.

Companies have considerable advantages when they promote equality.
This is demonstrated by a recent study we conducted with male managers in a total of 10 group discussions.

Many companies still stubbornly believe that equality and an increase in the number of women in management positions are pleasant "nice-to-have" additions to any company. Often, in addition to this, other supposedly "real" business topics are perceived to be more urgent. This is a fatal fallacy! In order to ensure the future viability and economic survival of a business, promoting equality is essentially a "must-have". As one of the male managers we interviewed said: "If all women are behind the stove, then our economy will go down the drain".

Why is that the case? We have compiled an overview of the most important arguments for you here:

Addressing the shortage of skilled workers
"And then to say, now we want to choose. That doesn't work anymore. You have to open up. The medium-sized companies, especially in the engineering sector, really do have a shortage of skilled workers". This statement made by a male manager in one of our discussions hits the nail on the head: demographic developments lead to an average age of 46.5 years for managers in Switzerland. It is therefore foreseeable that a whole series of (male) executives will retire in the near future. Unfortunately, however, there is not the same number of qualified young professionals. Even today it is not always easy to fill vacancies - and therefore it makes little sense to ignore well-qualified and motivated women.

Since 1991, there are almost a million more women in the workforce who are skilled and eager to enter leadership positions. Times have changed. For the managers in our study, employment and leadership positions have become more self-evident and there are more and more women as role models. However, social expectations are lagging behind. In comparison with the Netherlands or Scandinavia, for example, the female managers we surveyed in Switzerland, believe that a "world view of 3C: children, church, kitchen for women" is still widespread (especially beyond the French-speaking part of Switzerland and outside the cities).

"We need experts, that's why we discuss this topic, not because we have enough people".

In spite of some hurdles, making an effort to attract women is, however, extremely rewarding for companies. In the "War for Talent" new reservoirs of labour can be tapped, which automatically increase the pool of resources and selection. Formulating job offers in a gender-sensitive manner or distributing offers specifically via women's networks and explicitly commissioning headhunters to find suitable women, are proven and successful recruiting techniques.

In addition to the search for new specialists, employee retention is also important: "We simply must not lose the good people". Here, too, it has been proven that activities to promote gender equality, such as changing previous perceptions of “normality”, help companies to reduce their fluctuation rates as well as absenteeism and sickness rates - and thus not only save costs, but above all secure know-how. 

Overall, equality activities increase the attractiveness of employers, which means that small and medium-sized companies in particular can score points "because it's super great in employer branding when you can say, hey, we're on the same topic as big company X".

Increase efficiency and performance
The experience of male managers in our group discussions is that decisions made by all-male teams are "often more extreme or more black-and-white", and that "some potential added value is lost" when "relatively few women are in management positions". In contrast, high-performance teams "are usually characterized by the fact that they are quite diverse. Because they combine tradition and modernity, they question themselves, face risk, self-recruitment or self-congratulation." 
Overall, it has been found that mixed teams are more efficient and "reach their goal more easily with less effort" "and at the same time, it also greatly reduces the idea of competition" towards a "much stronger togetherness".

These perceptions are confirmed by studies by McKinsey or Ernst & Young, for example: companies with women in top management positions achieve up to 50% higher operating results! The reasons for these successes are the intentionally heterogeneous composition of the teams, which can react more flexibly in the constantly changing market and working environment, as well as faster and better to the different requirements of stakeholders and customers. They can also respond more flexibly to ongoing organisational change - both in digitalisation, which increasingly demands communication and project orientation.

The increase in efficiency and performance is accompanied by a reduction in direct costs due to excessive labour movements, new hires and absenteeism, as well as indirect costs due to dissatisfaction and demotivation.

Increase creativity and problem solving
High efficiency and performance are based on the fact that mixed teams are capable of more creativity, innovation and problem solving. This is mainly due to the fact that women and men contribute a variety of perspectives, life and work experiences and skills. One manager describes his experience this way: "We notice for ourselves that when it comes to leadership, for example, this costs us versatility. That we leave creativity behind, that we miss out on new ideas or approaches that we might otherwise have had. We notice that it helps us a lot when we have women whom we can inspire and develop into responsible positions and leadership roles".
This greater diversity of perspectives leads to better and more sustainable results. But "you have to disagree with each other more often. It's not always the easier way, but the bottom line is that the result is always better." There are "simply new thoughts, new knowledge, new ways of working, new techniques coming in", as opposed to the more uniform views of a homogenous group: "If we are only among men, where it is known that we all tick in the same way, we are also all in sync. If you suddenly get such "disruptive factors", then you also get more quality, and then in principle the result is also much more interesting".

According to the managers in our study, this leadership philosophy is based on "an incredibly good and positive exchange in the group", whose group dynamics are based on the diversity of opinions and behaviour, which in turn results in "a certain balance of decisions". In doing so, "certain topics or conflicts are dealt with differently - not just with muscle power or volume".
In summary, it was emphasized that "if we really want to become more innovative, we need to have diverse teams that think innovatively". On this subject of the importance of innovation and diversity in the workplace, one manager said: "I believe that this inspires the teams".

Cooperation as the basis for success
To inspire teams and deliver outstanding results, you need to cooperate. It is only when people are satisfied and enjoy their work, that they will be creative, efficient and stay healthy. In combination with having mixed teams, a positive feeling towards the workplace has a good effect on the working atmosphere. According to one of the male managers: "The team suddenly gets a completely different 'groove' when a woman is in it. A "different culture" is created and "the social climate is cultivated much more actively". In other words, women bring in the so-called "soft skills", i.e. they take care of colleagues' birthdays or start collecting gifts. At the same time, another male manager critically reflects on this: "You simply pass it on (a caring attitude towards colleagues) to them and take it for granted. But that is absolutely essential for a culture of togetherness. This must also be measured in terms of performance. It's something I really, really appreciate, but it's not in the job description anywhere. Neither does the perception of subliminal conflicts, or when colleagues are unhappy, which is emphasized as a great advantage in view of one's own lack of competence: "I have zero emotional intelligence, absolutely none. I have Ms X in my team who has lots and lots of it. I use her as my chief emotional officer.”

Equality as Perpetuum Mobile for a New Normality
For both women and men in management positions, equality is both a prerequisite and the result of the advantages described above. In a way, it is like a perpetuum mobile: more equality in the company results in more equality in the company results in more equality in the company results in more... 
It has become apparent in our data sample that managers want a new normality in which there is no pressure to conform to conventional role models. If, for example, the man works part-time, "the first thing you have to do is explain yourself. I am asked ‘so what do you do all the time’? Both have to explain themselves: Men must explain why they work so little and women must explain why they work so much. My wife has always worked 100% and people ask us: 'You have two children, why did you bring them into the world?' Then they always look at my wife, not at me! I think that's crazy!" 

In order to reduce the pressure of justification, women express the hope that communication "brings a normality to the topic", and that "the family can also have a place at work including understanding why an employee has to go home a little earlier or is a little late in the morning". For male managers, this work/life balance is also accompanied by a changed understanding of leadership in which it must be ensured "that people don't blow us off” with a better work/life balance. Subsequently, this results in demands on managers: not only to define themselves through four hours of sleep - that would be counterproductive. But because, you're burning out your people if you keep throwing unnecessary e-mails around all the time. 
To summarise the findings from our study, it is apparent that in order to build a more sustainable work environment for both men and women we need to redefine what is a “normal” successful work environment. But it's not only mutual understanding for each other and a changed management style that is necessary. Family responsibility (with accompanying absences due to maternity and parental leave), can, in some cases, lead to professional disadvantages (which is definitely not a situation that builds excellence or job satisfaction). The prerequisites for a fairer distribution of parental leave between mothers and fathers, as it is the case in Germany for example, are seen by managers here in Switzerland as desirable, but at the same time they admit: "We are actually still in the Stone Age here”. It's time to change that. 

The male managers we spoke with in our study stressed the importance of having diverse decision-making groups encouraging cooperation and flexibility. They acknowledged the benefits of these ethical considerations for the well-being of the company and emphasized that shaping equality begins with themselves: "WE have to create the framework conditions that make equality work!" one enlightened manager said.

Many of the topics in this article all stem from the following book chapter: Gertraude Krell und Barbara Sieben: Diversity Management: Chancengleichheit für alle und auch als Wettbewerbsvorteil, in: Krell, Gertraude/ Ortlieb, Renate/ Sieben, Barbara (Hrsg.) (2011): Chancengleichheit durch Personalpolitik, 6. Aufl., Wiesbaden, S. 155-174.