Empathy In the C-Suite Is Good For Business

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Oct 26, 2018

As we start to close out another year, we’ve seen several workplace gender issues become more mainstream in conversations about business practices. Whether it be the lack of diversity at the top, a gender pay gap or the #MeToo movement, every industry is enduring scrutiny on its hiring and managing of female employees.

C-suite executives – especially CEOs – are no longer free to sit on the sidelines. They are expected to be a part of the change conversation if they want to stay ahead of their competitors, and equally important, engaged with their own employees.

It’s clear that increased workplace diversity, which includes more women in leadership, makes organizations more empathetic. Diversity can mean many things – gender, generation, race or other socio-economic factors that may impact attitudes, preferences and expressions of empathy – each perspective makes a workforce richer, and through shared experience, makes a business more empathetic. More empathetic organizations attract top talent and achieve stronger business performance.

To gain momentum in driving empathy, C-suite executives must rise up and the impetus for change within their organizations.

Women still lacking in the C-suite

While we’ve made progress in recent years, we still have miles to go in empowering female leaders. In a society riddled with forward-thinking and innovation, only 20% of C-suite leaders are women, according to a recent McKinsey & Company study. However, the perception of women in leadership is skewed and distorted, as nearly 50% of men, and about 30% of women, think women are well represented in leadership in companies where only 1 in 10 senior leaders is a woman.

It’s time to change our perceptions and increase our standards. With most leadership positions held by men, they are a crucial part in pushing our workplaces forward with promoting more females upfront. That said, men are less likely to say gender diversity is a top personal priority, and 15% of men think their gender will make it harder to advance. Men must first recognize the importance of gender diversity and make it a priority in their professional lives to increase the strength of their organization. It takes a strong male executive to take a stance on gender diversity in the workplace, and the rewards are well worth it.

The case for leadership diversity

While there should be no need to build a case or produce evidence, research proves that gender diversity is good for business and the economy. If the United Stated reached full gender parity, it would add $1.7 trillion to the country’s GDP. That alone builds a business case – fuel the economy, fuel your own business growth.

With no diversity in leadership, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of gravitating towards those like you and making the same decisions with no risk and no reward. Living in an echo chamber stalls business growth, development and innovation. The addition of women to your leadership team will bring in different perspectives, a broader view and help break the cycle of group-think. This is both good for business, and internal employee morale and culture.

To add to the growing list of reasons to have women in leadership, they are perceived as more empathetic, and can bring that trait to the C-suite, and ultimately the employee base. Empathy is a trait that 96% of employees view as important for companies to demonstrate, so this is a crucial factor to note.

In fact, nearly 90% of CEOs believe companies and organizations would be more empathetic because of increased diversity within leaderships. If we believe it, then we need to start acting on it and developing a more diverse leadership team.

Empathy starts at the top and trickles down. Having a more empathetic voice on the leadership team will lead to a stronger, more empathetic culture in the workplace.

Empathy is good for business

Still, there are even more reasons to put women in leadership, as their empathetic nature can be linked to business performance. While I can’t say for certain the recent issues surrounding females in the workplace wouldn’t have happened had women been in charge, I’m confident the situations would have been handled better.

Additionally, a significant majority (87%) of CEOs believe that a company’s financial performance is tied to empathy in the workplace, and 8 in 10 agree that an empathetic workplace has a positive impact on business performance. These data points alone should compel you to put women in your leadership roles.

Finally, organizations with a strong culture of empathy win on talent. And what’s the most important asset to your business? Your people. 8 in 10 employees say they would leave their employer if they became less empathetic, and 81% would be willing to work longer hours for a more empathetic employer. There’s no way around it – empathy drives business.

The workplace continues to evolve, and those who do not make changes will be left behind. It’s up to current leadership to step up and initiate gender diversity. Don’t put a half-baked program into play with little resources – it will cost you in the long run. Go all-in on diversifying your leadership team for a true organizational win in business, empathy and talent. As C-Suite leaders, we must take the lead on our organization’s diversity agenda and set the precedent for the rest of the company to follow.

Our employees – and customers – are demanding it, so must we.