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Why we win with women leaders

March 08, 2017

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post

March 8 marks International Women’s Day. At Cargill, we’re not letting that date pass unnoticed. In fact, we recently made a major commitment to advancing women in our ranks. In December, Cargill became one of the 27 founding signatories of Paradigm for Parity, pledging to achieve gender parity in management by 2030. That’s why today I am sharing this space with two extraordinary women, leadership and diversity expert Carol Seymour and Cargill’s Pilar Cruz.

Carol is the author of the recent book “Wisdom Warriors,” which tells the down-to-earth personal stories of almost 100 female executives, including some of our own. As an expert on empowering women in the corporate world, she advises major companies, including Cargill. Pilar leads Cargill’s Corporate Strategy and Development team. In her own leadership team, Pilar has already achieved gender parity, showing the way forward.

Joining Paradigm for Parity was definitely the right thing to do for Cargill. At the current rate, it would take the business world much too long to achieve gender parity. Companies need to be motivated to act and demonstrate new urgency. 

Here’s my commitment: Cargill will continue to make this issue a priority. And let me be clear: This also benefits men. Diverse teams are stronger and they help us all win.

For instance, benchmarking by MSCI World, a global stock market index, shows that companies with strong female leadership averaged 10 percent return on equity annually, while companies without it averaged only 7 percent. In other words: even though Cargill mas made great strides in recent years, we must do more.

Something we often say is, “If you’re not actively including people, you are excluding them.” That’s the reason why we joined Paradigm for Parity and will keep working on building a strong, diverse leadership pipeline. We want to make sure that we are backing up our principles with tangible, measurable action. 

CAROL: As one of the founders of Paradigm for Parity, I applaud Cargill’s involvement. Very often we see that the CEO is key. So many companies talk about gender parity, but the pendulum doesn’t move until a leader commits their personal energy and the company’s time and resources.

PILAR: It’s easy to talk the talk. You also have to walk the walk. And the time is now. We can’t wait any longer to do what we know is right, and what’s best for business and for society as whole. That’s why we have to continue recruiting talented women and promoting them to leadership roles. And we have to make sure we have women who can be examples to their more junior counterparts – people to look up to, so women can say, “I know I can be like her.”

CAROL: Building a talent pipeline is so important. I have seen many women with solid skills and leadership abilities drop out of corporations because it was simply too hard to stay engaged. I knew I couldn’t change the corporate world by myself, but I could equip women with new tools and new ways to navigate the terrain while staying true to themselves. The fact is, we can learn so much by tapping into mentors that share their wisdom of tackling the issues ahead of us. 

PILAR: I was happy to see Paradigm for Parity put such an emphasis on sponsors. We’ve all had our mentors, people who’ve shown us how corporate America works and how to get things done. But it’s just as important to have sponsors – people who speak up for you when you’re not in the room and decisions about promotions are made.   

DAVE: You’re absolutely right, Pilar. And as we make the extra effort to advance diverse talent through the ranks, we’re also taking steps to create a support system, for instance by offering extended paid family leave and flexible work arrangements. Success in the workplace is still too often equated with face time – sitting at your desk where your co-workers and managers can see you – instead of actual results. That’s also true for men, but it disproportionately impacts women.

PILAR: I’m glad we’re offering that extra support. Too often, a lack of confidence is what holds women back. I once had a very talented woman on my team. When she got pregnant, she came to my office to tell me she was resigning. I asked, “Why would you do that?” She told me that she lived too far from the office and just wouldn’t be able to make it work. We came up with an arrangement that allowed her to work from home. I have kids myself and I understand how hard it can be, but somebody else might have let her resign and we would have lost her talent. The point is: as an employee you have to have the confidence to ask, and as a manager, you have to advance creative solutions.

CAROL: Women are often held back by their personal fear of failure. From an entry-level employee to the highest leader, perfectionism can be self-limiting. But the best executives play to win, rather than playing not to lose. It requires that you take risks. After all, if you don’t try and fail, you don’t grow.

DAVE: Thank you both for your insights. I’m looking forward to having more candid conversations on how we can make up ground as quickly as possible. Cargill is committed to success and driving change across every level of our global organization.