I am happy to see more and more studies which quantify that women leaders are good for business. One of the latest is a research report that examines gender diversity on the corporate boards of 4,000 public companies worldwide. It found that companies with strong numbers in women leadership generated a return on equity of 10.1% per year versus 7.4% for those without.
A company only needed one of the following criteria to be considering as having strong women leadership: three or more women on the board, more women on its board than the country’s average or a woman CEO and at least one woman on the board.
Companies with gender diversity in addition to performing better also had less governance-related controversies than average. They had almost 25% fewer cases of bribery, corruption, fraud and shareholder battles. (We can speculate as to why that might be but the report found no evidence to support the claim that having more women in board positions indicates greater aversion to risk taking.)
At Ogilvy, we’ve had the good fortune of having a number of women ascend to very senior positions, and the organization has no doubt been the better for it by many measures, including financial performance.
In 2002, Marcia Silverman, a 25-year veteran of Ogilvy PR Worldwide, was appointed CEO, making her one of the industry’s first women presidents. (Incidentally, she was also Ogilvy PR’s first president of the Americas.) During the next seven years of her tenure, the agency tripled its size in the US and expanded into a truly global business, in no small part because of her leadership.
Ogilvy has had similar success on the advertising side. Shelly Lazarus would lead Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide for more than a dozen years following her appointment in 1996. She would help champion truly integrated marketing campaigns for such clients as American Express, Coca-Cola, Dove and IBM.
Today, both women hold the deserved positions of chair emeritus.
Reflecting on her legacy in a video for Makers, an online platform that profiles women in ground-breaking leadership roles, Shelly commented: “The great thing about living in this age that we’re in is that women are allowed to have any ambition that they can dream of. That has not been true for most of my life. If you can dream it you can do it.”
I believe that is particularly true for our talent at Ogilvy, both men and women alike. I think it is in part because Marcia and Shelly inspired and mentored so many other women, and really paved the way for our organization to cultivate gender inclusion at all levels.
Today more than half of our managing directors are women. They are the leaders of such practices areas as content and social, healthcare, US tech, global media relations, and strategy and planning.
Yet the underrepresentation of women at the top of industry including in PR is well-documented. There are actions companies can take to help rectify this. We continue to make changes.
Late last year, our global CEO, Stuart Smith, soon after his appointment, took action and expanded Ogilvy Public Relations’ executive committee from four members to 13 – six of them women. They are Michele Anderson, MD, Chicago; Debby Cheung, president, Shanghai group; Joanna Oosthuizen, MD, South Africa; Stacey Ryan-Cornelius, worldwide controller, Ogilvy & Mather, based in New York; Renata Saraiva, MD, Brazil; and Jennifer Scott, MD, New York. And again took action by launching a board to further reflect our workforce. I proudly count myself as one of the nine women – out of 17 board members – involved in helping us to grow and flourish in exciting and new ways.
As our global CEO has said on record inside and outside of the organization gender diversity in our management committees and boards is the right thing to do. It is right for our people, because we should reflect the make-up of our talent. It is also the right thing to do for our clients. They themselves are striving to promote diversity within their organizations, and of course be more inclusive in how they communicate with their audiences.
And finally as so many studies have proven over and over again now, it is simply good for business.