When asked what is effective in leading a team, I go back a step and think about the composition of the team…whom did I ask to join? And is the team inclusive, representative and diverse? I think a good leader is intentional in forming a team that will include a diverse array of thought and talent but also life experience.
That can mean many things. For example, have you included the front-line people who will be implementing the project as well as the planners, managers or engineers? Often people know only a piece of the whole picture and you get a better picture by including people from a range of perspectives and asking for their input.
But since this is a blog about “mentoring women,” I’m going to talk about why women need to have a seat at the table.
Why is it important to be inclusive about gender? For starters, because “gender roles” and sexual characteristics are part of the human experience and women have a different biology and cultural experience than men. Whereas, this has been used to stereotype women in the past and exclude them from opportunities, now researchers and scientists understand that male physiology cannot be used exclusively as the norm. It is important to consider how decisions about everything from drug dosage for heart disease to seatbelts in cars can impact women differently. In her book, Gendered Innovations in Science and Engineering, Stanford University professor, Londa Schiebinger, documents through case studies, how applying a gender analysis to scientific research, can lead to breakthroughs in knowledge as well as improvements in products. See also: http://genderedinnovations.stanford.edu
There are also studies suggesting that the inclusion of women is good for business and for the bottom line. First in talent management, it seems obvious that to find the best talent you should cast the widest net. Yet this means that companies have to recruit in new and different ways and be more intentional in reaching out to diverse candidates. We all have a tendency to select what is familiar and to surround ourselves with others who are like us. Social scientists have even given this phenomenon a name, “homosocial reproduction”. This term was coined by management scholar Rosabeth Moss Kanter to describe the in-group loyalty that causes people in authority to fill positions and give better evaluations to individuals who are similar to them especially in characteristics such as gender, race and religion. So to counter this habit of human nature and seek the best talent, one needs to be intentional about building an inclusive team.
Several studies have made the case that the inclusion of more women in management and decision-making is good for the bottom line. In a 2011 study by the US non-profit group Catalyst, companies with more women on their boards of directors (3 or more) outperformed those with none to few in sales and return on investment. And a August 2012 study by Credit Suisse Research Institute concludes: “In testing the performance of 2,360 companies globally over the last six years, our analysis shows that it would on average have been better to have invested in corporates with women on their management boards than in those without.”
And finally, recent research out of the Center for Collective Intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, suggests that having more women in a group raises its collective intelligence and success. The Director of the Center, Professor Thomas Malone states: “…we found that the collective intelligence of the group was significantly correlated with the percentage of women in the group. More women were correlated with a more intelligent group. “ He goes on to say that they believe they get this result because women tend to have a greater level of “social perceptiveness” which is important to high functioning groups although men can have this competency too.
But I realize that I’m preaching to the choir here. And I don’t intend to be a chauvinist and say that only women can improve a team. Also “women” is not a monolithic category as there are many other intersecting identities such race, ethnicity, class, age, sexual orientation, religion, and ability among women that influence our experience and perspectives and these are important too.
Yet, even with these cautions in mind, I believe a good leader will increase chances of success by casting a wide net for team talent and making sure their teams are “gender diverse.”
 Kanter, Rosabeth Moss, 1977, Men and Women of the Corporation, New York, Basic Books  *Catalyst: The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards 2004-2009  Credit Suisse Research Institute, “Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance”, August 2012, accessed at: https://publications.credit-suisse.com/ Edge Foundation, A Conversation with Thomas W. Malone, November 12, 2102, found at: http://edge.org/conversation/collective-intelligence
Kathleen has been the Director of the Office for Women at Indiana University – Purdue University, Indianapolis since 2004. As the director, she works to create an inclusive and equitable campus environment where both women and men can succeed. She has a diverse background of professional experiences from which to draw for this role including her work as an attorney, a marriage and family therapist and a businesswoman. She teaches classes for the Women’s Studies program in the IU School of Liberal Arts and for the IUPUI Community Learning Network on women’s leadership and professional advancement. Kathleen holds a J.D. degree from Indiana University McKinney School of Law and a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis. Her Bachelor of Science degree in Speech is from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.