When representatives from the National Association of Female Executives (NAFE) Top 60 Companies for Executive Women gathered on St. Patrick's Day at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City, the feeling was celebratory—but it was not just an event to honor the winning organizations. Instead, the NAFE gala awards luncheon was about how these companies can take women's inclusion—and all inclusion—to the next level, and how to groom the next generation of female leaders to rise through the ranks with them.
"Do not take the legacy and the burden of what you have experienced and pass it on to the next generation," Subha Barry, vice president & general manager of Working Mother Media, told the assembled crowd. "Instead, prepare the next generation to be their own best selves." Barry's remarks came in light of a roundtable discussion that morning, in which executives discussed how to move beyond rivalry between women and instead foster beneficial relationships. Mentoring is not enough, the event speakers noted, and women and men need to take a more active role in promoting women. "Sponsoring is the key to women's success," said NAFE President Betty Spence, PhD.
"We have to do more than tell these women to lean in," added Lynne Doughtie, chairman & CEO of winning company KPMG and the luncheon's keynote speaker. "We have to reach in."
How to do that? Julie Sweet, group CEO, North America, of winning company Accenture, said her company released its diversity and inclusion numbers to the public. She said it was not an act of self-congratulation—Accenture's numbers could be improved, she said. Releasing the stats publicly was a disruptive way of holding the company accountable.
Sweet also mentioned that companies can leverage technology to help close the gender gap. "Digital fluency can help women in their careers," she said. She cited a research report done by Accenture that found that if businesses and governments double the pace at which women embrace and use digital technologies, developed countries could reach gender equality by 2040—which is 25 years earlier than if the status quo is maintained.
Helping women advance in their careers is not just good for women—it's good for their companies as well. Dr. Spence cited a recent study that showed companies with 30 percent women leaders have a 15 percent higher profitability rate than companies with no female leaders—and the more women there are at the top, the better the companies do. (Of note: Five of the NAFE Top Companies are led by a woman—Accenture, Avon Products, Diageo North America, General Motors, IBM and KPMG; as well as four of the NAFE Top 10 Nonprofits—Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, March of Dimes Foundation, WellStar Health System and Yale-New Haven Hospital.)
In her keynote address, Doughtie agreed. "I believe the most successful companies are the ones with innovation, collaboration, purpose and passion," she said, "and that just won't happen without diverse teams."