One of the most significant factors limiting the growth potential of countries around the world is the fundamental participation and engagement of women in their workforce.

The second annual research study by Mercer on gender diversity in the workplace suggests that eliminating the gap between male and female employment rates could boost countries’ GDP by up to 34%.  How do we get there? We need to leverage the talent of women to drive innovation in our businesses – and this goes beyond lip service. It needs to become a strategic imperative.

How Investing in Female Talent Produces Dividends

To capitalize on innovative thought, businesses need to invest in a diverse workforce which includes funding, supporting, and mentoring female talent. These investments pay rich dividends for companies as a recent Babson College report shows that “businesses with a woman on the executive team are more likely to have higher valuations at both first and last funding (64 percent higher and 49 percent higher, respectively).” The Harvard Business Review report agrees that women are essential to growth and innovation:

… employees who work for companies [that acquire and support female employees] are 45% more to likely report that their company improved market share in the last 12 months. And they’re 70% more likely to report that their company captured a new market in that time frame.

Hiring a diverse workplace is the first step to harnessing female innovation, but businesses also need to foster women’s ideas. The Harvard Business Review further reveals that the “full innovative potential of women” remains largely untapped within corporations largely because the leadership doesn’t know how to capture the insights of women or have adequate ways to endorse their ideas. In my view, executives must be willing to create a culture where all employees feel safe to pitch ideas and must be able to change direction based on winning or innovative pitches.This won’t happen in isolation.

To unlock real business value, there must be policies and programs that open the door to women’s participation in new and innovative initiatives along with appropriate mentoring and feedback.  Fostering these exchanges is essential as Harvard reports women who receive “constructive and supportive feedback are 128% more likely to elicit breakthrough ideas.”

I have written previously about how we encourage young women into technology careers, noting the four key steps:

  1. Social encouragement
  2. Self perception
  3. Academic exposure
  4. Career perception

It’s time we take these four steps.

Nina Nets It Out: Almost every business has potential that is waiting to be leveraged. Female talent is largely under-developed, yet offers significant potential in terms of market valuation, business performance and innovation.