Want An Innovative Business? Start With Gender Equality
"If you don’t have diverse talent within your organization, or if women aren’t playing a key role in driving innovation, you will not keep up with the external pressures and demands of an increasingly diverse and dynamic customer base,” says Nate Hurst, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer at HP.
Hurst, who leads the global technology company’s sustainability and social impact work, says the current lack of gender equality worldwide hinders business performance and growth across all industries. This is supported by a 2018 McKinsey Deliver Through Diversity report, which found that increased diversity leads to stronger financial performance.
“We know that when women enter the workforce and when there is greater equality, the economy thrives. If women played an identical role as men in the labor market, it could add an additional 20 trillion (USD) to global GDP by 2025,” he says.
While women's participation in the global workforce has increased, Hurst says there is still a wide gender disparity in access to quality education programs - particularly in developing countries.
“Without giving women and girls the opportunity to learn new skills and succeed, the gender economic gap is only going to continue to widen. We are all going to be held back because of a lack of innovation, which is needed to drive economic growth”, says Hurst.
In this interview, Hurst shares why advancing women in innovation and technology is critical to unlocking business growth and what every leader can do to make this happen.
Michelle King: Why do you think gender equality is a critical business issue?
Nate Hurst: Diversity is really core to innovation. In today’s business environment, true innovation really comes from businesses with a diverse employee base. We rely on top innovation talent to survive. Our diverse group of employees help us to identify opportunities as well as blind spots so we can serve a diverse customer base. Women make up such a large portion of our customer base now. Having diverse talent just makes our business stronger.
King: What are some of the biggest challenges to advancing gender equality globally?
Hurst: The biggest challenge is the access to quality education. It is one of the most fundamental barriers to equality globally. So many women and girls around the world do not have access to quality education and training to help them learn to read. Illiteracy is not only linked to economic disadvantage, but also to things like low self-esteem and low political participation. It can also lead to many negative health outcomes as well. Girls are more likely than boys to never set foot in a classroom. In fact, women account for two-thirds of adults who lack basic literacy skills.
King: Do you have any suggestions or examples for how to solve this issue?
Hurst: As technology continues to advance the skills needed to keep up continue to change. In fact, all children having access to education supported by technology is really a human right. So, it is incumbent upon all of us to overcome the barriers that women face in accessing equal education across the world. We are doing this through a range of programs, for example our HP LIFE (Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs) online training platform, which helps women around the world access business and IT skills.
King: What can each of us do to support women in innovation?
Hurst: Being an active ally, mentor and sponsor of diverse talent is critical to breaking down so many of these barriers and to advance equality, regardless of the sector you work in. It is important for each of us to be deliberate about supporting women in technology. Often this means taking that extra step, because sometimes it is very subtle. For example, male leaders need to listen twice as much as speaking to make sure they truly hear, and to create space to invite all the diverse voices to the table.
King: That’s true! Can you share any examples of what you have done to support women in innovation and technology and why this is important?
Hurst: I think it is really important for leaders to encourage people to be who they are when they come to the job every day. This allows people to truly be the best version of themselves at work. I have really tried to encourage this and I have seen the innovation and productivity increase as a result. Every leader should be looking to build a high-performing team and that can only come from bringing together people with diverse thoughts and talents - gender inclusion is right at the heart of this. What you will see when you do this is that innovation will follow.