Women's value: Beyond the business case for diversity and inclusion

Dr Victor Sojo and Professor Cordelia Fine publish thought-provoking article in The Lancet special issue on advancing women in science, medicine and global health.

This week, The Lancet dedicates an entire issue to advancing gender equity in science, medicine, and global health.

Dr Victor Sojo from the Centre for Workplace Leadership and Professor Cordelia Fine from the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, both at the University of Melbourne argue that we need to look beyond the business case for diversity and inclusion.

This is short excerpt from their perspectives article.

"This Lancet issue on women in medicine seeks to address some confronting topics: from a “system imbued with gender bias” to the “unequal distribution of power within societies”. These important ideas can at times feel like endangered concepts: in discussions about equality in recent decades, principles of equity and social justice have been increasingly crowded out by market logic and rhetoric. Consider journalist Anand Giridharadas’s account of a breakout session at a Clinton Global Initiative conference on harnessing the power of girls and women for sustainable development. As Giridharadas describes it, the discussion emphasised the competitive advantage and business opportunities to be reaped from women’s rise. That female empowerment is smart for business is, Giridharadas wryly observes, “the highest praise a cause could receive”. And, while there can be value in pointing out the economic benefits of doing the right thing, the business-case approach makes striving for equality seem discretionary; just one of many things an organisation could do to increase its performance or competitive advantage. As Giridharadas ironically suggests: “If the logic of our time had applied to the facts of an earlier age, someone would have put out a report suggesting that ending slavery was great for reducing the trade deficit.”

We also, working as academics in gender-related fields, see signs of this encroachment of market values into social justice domains. Research on gender-based violence now often begins with an account of the economic cost to society of such violence. Then there is the growing body of social science research testing for links between the inclusion of women and minority groups on top management teams in the business sector and improved financial performance. The business and economic impacts of gender equality and inequality are important research topics; we must understand how social changes impact organisations and economic systems. Similarly, evidence-based business and economic cases for gender equality are thought to be powerful ways to rally influential groups who otherwise would not pay attention to social equity issues. It is simply hard-nosed business sense that truly inclusive organisations and societies should increase meritocracy by allowing all individuals similar opportunities to contribute."

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