Gender diversity matters for sustainable growth

by Chris Khang

Chris Khang

At a symposium celebrating Korea’s 20th anniversary as a member of the OECD held in November 2016, Randall S. Jones, a senior economist and head of the Japan/Korea Desk at the OECD, pointed at Korea’s low female employment rate.

According to the OECD’s latest statistics, Korea’s female employment rate ranked the tenth lowest among member states, falling behind the male employment rate by 21 percentage points.

While many understand the importance of gender diversity in today’s vibrant business environment, we as business leaders still have more room for improvement.

The value of gender diversity should be widely acknowledged given in that it brings different perspectives and approaches to businesses.

The business world will always be a meritocracy, but we know that the diverse leaders will perform well if they are given the chance.

Research conducted by the United Nations in 2016 also showed that companies that promote women empowerment and gender equality are more profitable, as their commitment to women’s active participation is seen as being socially responsible, resulting in recording greater efficiency and better personnel performances.

Regardless of business sectors and industries, companies should make consistent efforts to empower women and make sure female workers are given the opportunity to realize their distinctive leadership potential.

The true meaning of women empowerment in the workforce can be achieved when the strengths that women bring to the company are fully developed and utilized.

It should not be just about increasing the percentage of female employees, but more importantly, increasing the accessibility to leadership and functional education opportunities to allow female leaders to reach the executive level.

At GE, women account for a quarter of roughly 4,900 executives. That is up from 16 percent in 2001, the year Jeff Immelt assumed the chairman’s role. Such changes are emerging as GE is on a journey of transforming itself to become a faster and more innovative company.

Immelt also emphasized the importance of women assuming powerful roles as a crucial aspect of the company’s reinvention effort.

GE believes that a diversity and inclusiveness culture is key to sustainable growth, and is operating many leadership programs.

The Women’s Network is a great example of its attempts to enhance women’s leadership. The program has been running for almost 20 years now and has grown into a worldwide network, which spreads across 150 hubs in 43 countries. It offers various workshops, speaking engagements, and networking activities to enable participants to share their experiences, best practices, and knowledge of successful female role models.

GE in Korea is also trying to embrace the value of gender diversity, as we, in fact, do have a long way ahead of us. Leveraging the Women’s Network as a platform, GE Korea has been giving opportunities to nurture female employees by consistently networking with GE mentors including male business leaders as well as female leaders outside the company.

The GE-WISET (The Center for Women in Science Engineering and Technology) Global Mentoring program is another GE initiative to cultivate high-potential women leaders in the science and engineering field that has been a traditionally male dominated realm.

Since 2012, in collaboration with WISET, GE has supported over 150 female students in the field of engineering with their career development.

The program made a great achievement last year, where a female leader at GE Korea who participated in the program as a mentor and five female mentee students collaborated to pursue a project using the industrial internet platform, Predix.

They developed a prototype application that measures the density of dust in real-time by visualizing the data on PC and mobile devices. The GE female mentor who led the project was recognized by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning, and won the title of Mentor of the Year in 2016.

Diversity is a necessity, not a business’ socially responsible duties. It brings important implications to a company’s management practices.

Diversity is about competitiveness and the culture of a company. Promoting diverse talent inside the company to important leadership positions should be a requirement for the businesses.

John F. Kennedy once said that “The wave of the future is not the conquest of the world by a single dogmatic creed but the liberation of the diverse energies.” The power of diversity works the same way in the world of business.

Chris Khang is president and CEO of GE Korea.