Diversity in Leadership – Impact on Society

The pandemic has shown us how important it is for the decision-making bodies to be diverse in order for the society to be adequately represented. 18 thoughts, theses and learnings from the (virtual) Impact Salon of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt


Prof. Dr. Claudia Peus, Executive Vice President for Talent Management and Diversity at the Technical University of Munich

What studies show – and what they (possibly) don’t

There are countless studies that examine gender diversity in connection to corporate success, for example ‘Women Matter’ by McKinsey. There is also good work on this topic in the academic world, a meta-analysis (Post & Byron, 2015), in which 140 individual studies and figures from 90,000 organizations have been included. That means there is an excellent data set. A statistical analysis was carried out, in order to determine whether there are any effects at all. The result: Yes, there is a significant correlation between ‘Women on Boards’ (in the Anglo-Saxon world, there is not such a separation between management and supervisory boards) and the financial performance of a company. However, it must be said that nothing can be causally deduced from this. It could be that companies, which are well positioned anyway and proactively tackle many future issues, are more successful and appoint women to these boards. In short: There is a connection – but it cannot necessarily be interpreted causally.

Completely underestimated – the aspect of collective intelligence

So far, collective intelligence has hardly played a role in the diversity debate. Yet, this aspect is very insightful. There is an exciting paper on this subject, that was published in ‘Science’: Is there such thing as collective intelligence? After all, individual intelligence can be measured by IQ, which is a very good predictor of a person’s ability to perform in various tasks. Does such a predictor also exist for groups? And is it about having the most intelligent person or the highest averaged intelligence? In both cases it turns out: No reliable predictor. The best one, if you don’t know very much about a team, is the proportion of women. Because, as this work shows quite clearly, women tend to listen more, to be more responsive to each other and it’s crucial when working in groups. Gender diversity is therefore an important factor in collective intelligence.

Profit or loss? A question of perspective

When it comes to gender diversity, it is often discussed: What do we get out of it? You can turn it around and ask: What happens if we do not address this issue? How can we avoid losses? One can also argue: If you are not interested in diversity at all, you are taking risks. Collective thinking can be such risk, the so-called ‘groupthink phenomenon’. The problem is the systematic underestimation of jeopardies. This was first described after Kennedy’s ‘Bay of Pigs’ disaster. There, very smart men, trained at Harvard made very bad decisions, because everyone thought similarly and encouraged each other. Fukushima was similar, and post-Corona will probably come to alike conclusion, because the committees there were also very homogeneous. 

Female Leadership and Two Questions From One Man

Dr Frank Niederländer, Member of the Board of Management of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt

The crisis will help to get a better understanding and clarify the issue

Diversity is not a given. A crisis, such as the one we are experiencing right now, puts a recognized topic to the test and offers the opportunity to discuss it in more nuanced terms.

Diversity must also become a male issue

Why do so few men actually discuss diversity issues? For example, this year’s Munich Security Conference had its own pavilion on ‘Female Leadership’, with very exciting discussions; it was all about the ‘Female Leadership’ in foreign policy and embassies. The event was well attended – but mainly by women, by Female Leaders. And we will also continue to develop our own governance in the coming years!

Why are start-ups not further along?

Actually, one would have to assume, that the cards are being reshuffled in the start-up scene, that there is a chance for a reset in new, non-established areas. But here, too, we are experiencing an imbalance. The question in this context is: How can diversity be increased? How can it be approached more strategically, in order to really make diversity a must, a driver issue?

From niche to mainstream

In our global ‘Responsible Leaders Netzwerk’ of the Foundation, the ratio of women to men is about 40/60, which is not yet completely balanced, but it’s something. And we can see that this brings completely different dynamic. What we ask ourselves is: How can we succeed in transferring these impulses into the mainstream world. How do we manage to reach the decision-makers. How do we manage to build this bridge?

Access to Supervisory Boards

Dr. Ute Geipel-Faber, Member of the Supervisory Board of Vonovia SE, BayernLB and Invesco Real Estate Management S.a.r.l.

Career cannot be planned

To be honest, I find the title ‘Access to supervisory boards’ difficult, because it sounds like a recipe book. Yet there is no such recipe. You can’t plan a career. I myself am an economist by training and ended up in the international real estate business. I never thought I would go down this path. So you see, a recipe book here does not exist. I always tell my mentees: “Do what you do, properly. Then the next step will come naturally.”

The ‘old boys’’ networks are passé

The good news is, that there are other ways to get these mandates today, the old structures have had their peak. Ten years ago, the Old Boys’ Network still existed, when the posts were casually distributed among men while playing golf. Worse, there was the ‘German Inc.’, the capital-based intertwining of large corporations, where jobs were also being pushed back and forth. All of this no longer exists today.

More transparency, more internationality, more networks for women

Overall, the setting in the economy has significantly changed. There is more transparency and internationality. The networks for women also have an impact. Of course, we would like to see more diversity and more women in management positions. But on the other hand, if I compare it with my professional beginnings, there have been some changes in the recent years. I am pleased that there are so many great, excellently trained women. We should also take this perspective into consideration. What we have achieved so far should give all women the courage and self-confidence to continue on this path.

The Key Position of the Media World  

Dr. Katarzyna Mol-Wolf, Managing Director of Emotion Verlag GmbH and member of the FAZ supervisory board  

The role of the media

We have the responsibility to ensure that women are seen and heard. Currently, we are still experiencing a massive under-representation and outdated role models that are always being passed on – across all formats and all media channels. This must stop. The media has a great impact on our understanding of certain roles. And, therefore, it should present more positive role models to influence the audience.

Equal Pay as a lever for equality

The progress in equality policy, achieved over many years, has suffered massively as a result of the Corona crisis, women have been set back several years in this respect, and previous injustices have been further exacerbated. We must take countermeasures immediately. Equal Pay is a decisive lever in this respect, as is the recognition of care work. To this end, we must continue to encourage women to demand partnership and cooperation in the areas of child rearing and the household, as well as implementing modern working conditions.

Participation is the key

Our society is diverse and this must finally be reflected in decision-making bodies at all levels of the hierarchy.

Solidarity is the first commandment

Women should support each other more on the way to equality, because together we can make progress.

Perspective of Female Founders

Katharina Schüller, founder and managing director of STAT-UP, winner of the Munich Business Prize 2019

What concerns me

What role does gender equality play for a more sustainable world? Why is gender equality an integral part of a balance of social, environmental and economic aspects, which we need for positive shift? Where can responsible leadership be shown in these Covid-19 times?

Lack of data

To this date, there is still no comprehensive representative data collection on many different perspectives of the corona crisis: Health (i.e. the dynamics of the pandemic), economy (who is affected where and to what extent), education (how does school closure affect children and families, also depending on the socio-economic status of the family), family and women (psychosocial burdens, domestic violence).

You cannot manage what you cannot measure

If topics are not relevant for experts/decision-makers, who make sure that they are measured and managed? Parameters, such as case numbers, R or the 7-day incidence are uncertain and retrospective – you only get outdated numbers. Nevertheless, men in particular (experts and politicians), have constantly communicated as if these figures were a basis for future management. Is it ‘typically male’ to regard apparent certainty in decision-making as a decision-making competence, rather than the ability to deal with uncertainty?

Women as crisis managers

How would we overcome the Corona crisis if women had been equally involved in the expert councils from the very beginning? Would more diversity have led to different decisions? What I have experienced myself: When women speak out as experts, they are often judged by appearances. This also happens to me occasionally, as an entrepreneur. How do we deal with this in a confident manner?

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