093007 climb lcl mgsMuch attention is paid to the disparities between men and woman in the workplace. It is true that women are generally paid less (roughly seventy-five cents on the dollar), encounter the glass ceiling earlier (of course, men don’t encounter it at all), must network more creatively and carefully, and generally wrestle more with the never-ending work/family/life balancing act. Yet it is also true that women are rising and succeeding in the business world more effectively than ever before. It is an indisputable fact that women have made substantial strides in recent decades, further underscored by Fortune’s 2008 list of the 50 Most Powerful Women.

Fortune’s list reveals some positive and encouraging trends: More than 50% of the winners are 50 and under, several are younger than 40. They hail from a wide cross section of industries and have a fair amount of diversity among their ranks. Many are competently juggling family and business life. And while the salary gap between men and women is still marked, one cannot help but applaud the fact that progress is clearly being made and will inevitably continue to trend upwards.

To be sure, gender equality in the workforce and beyond is a noble goal. But the continued advancement of professional women is important for all organizations looking to expand, diversify and become increasingly competitive.  Research in Europe and the United States suggests that companies with more senior-level women tend to perform better financially. Hiring and retaining women at all levels also enlarges a company’s pool of talent, important to fuel ongoing growth as well as hedge against leaner periods. Coaching, mentoring, and networking programs all have and continue to result in executive success and retention, increasingly important business and efficiency metrics.

This is an incredibly exciting time for women. In the political arena, we’ve seen a woman very nearly miss the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. A bold and outspoken, albeit controversial, female Vice Presidential candidate is on the Republican ticket. Women executives are making amazing strides in terms of compensation, position and power. And with the current state of the global economy, I would expect that discrimination across races and genders will decrease even more as we are forced to focus on the results and outcomes versus the person or package delivering them.

Yes, it is still the case that the higher up in a company you look, the fewer the number and percentages of women. But these statistics are indisputably improving. The point is not to close gaps just because its the right thing to do. Women contribute to the work world in significant ways; it’s foolish to ignore these contributions and their impact to companies’ bottom lines. With women also tending to be more loyal in the long term, we need to support and encourage the development of these executives for the benefit of all.

Nina Nets It Out: Success is success, no matter the package. Develop your resources, encourage your most promising performers and focus on developing all your best talent. Research shows that gender diversity is a goal well worth the investment, so evaluate your teams and make sure you’re supporting your people with a blind eye to all but their potential, your organizations subsequent enrichment and an ultimate boost to the bottom line.