Look around the table at your next meeting. If you're seeing a lot more men than women, it doesn't only mean you're suffering from gender bias...it means you're lacking the skills that are required for success today and in the future.

Last December, three economists released a working paper entitled, "The End of Men and Rise of Women in the High-Skilled Labor Market," that demonstrated a marked increase in the demand for "cognitive skills" in high-paying jobs. The economists assert that social skills have become critical in the workplace, and most necessary in the roles that are the most high-wage. And, they found that women have a "comparative advantage in tasks requiring social and interpersonal skills."

As many women have discovered, their innate tendencies to collaborate, compromise and empathize have served them well in working situations. While often these traits have been viewed as tentative, apologetic or lacking in confidence, it turns out that women's humility may play to their advantage in the twenty-first century and beyond.

In related news, last week a 2013 article from Harvard Business Review was resurrected and went hugely viral. The author asserts that one key driver of the uneven sex ratio in management at most companies is our inability to distinguish competence from confidence.

So what can you do to infuse your company with more humility and EQ and less bluster?

1. Set targets for gender diversity, and publicly track the benefits.

Sodexo CEO Michel Landel documented in McKinsey Quarterly in 2015 how his company Sodexo engaged in several initiatives to improve gender balance. They worked hard to transform the culture to reduce bias, and set targets to build the ranks of women at every level throughout the company. Once they had achieved greater gender balance, Sodexo tabulated the benefits -- which included: an increase in employee engagement, greater customer satisfaction, and higher operating profit.

In essence, Sodexo's real-time work to promote gender diversity became the most compelling business case its workforce could have asked for.

2. Train employees in softer skills.

Make sure you are encouraging all employees to think about how they can listen and empathize more. Encourage employees to engage in open dialog and gentle criticism of each other's approach. And allow women to set the tone in group settings.

This subtle reprogramming of natural tendencies toward insensitivity can be undertaken internally -- which could be tricky, or you could be like 20 percent of U.S. employers that have enlisted formal empathy training from outside providers -- including LinkedIn, Ford Motor Company and Cisco.

3. Tie social skills to compensation.

Make sure interpersonal skills are a real and tangible part of the annual review and bonus process. Tie compensation not just to what was accomplished, but how it was accomplished. According to a recent report by Monster, improving communication and interpersonal skills among managers is key to improving retention among high performing employees.

With interpersonal skills being essential to workplace performance, women are likely to excel in their annual reviews instead of being docked for the very traits that will bring them success. Which means more women will be promoted to management, and then more social skills will be present in the leadership ranks.


According to a 2015 Global Empathy Index, the top 10 companies with the most empathy generated 50 percent more net income than the bottom 10. So if you're still not convinced, you may want to look into some empathy training yourself.

Published on: Mar 28, 2017