Why Women are the Future (and Past) of Business Innovation

Soren Kaplan Posted by Soren Kaplan.

Soren Kaplan is a keynote speaker, author of the bestselling & award winning book, Leapfrogging, writer for FastCompany, faculty member in executive education at the Copenhagen Business

Why Women are the Future (and Past) of Business Innovation

Mainstream business culture penalizes women for being women. But “feminine” skill sets are the not-so-secret ingredients for what it takes to innovate in today’s digital world. 

2015 has so far been monumental for women. Hilary announced her run for office, and six women took home the Pulitzer Prize (compared to one female winner in 2014).

Yet, when it comes to business, women get screwed.

Women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Only 25 CEOs in the Fortune 500 are women, a mere 5%. How many bruised female heads have you seen slam up against the glass ceiling?

This isn’t just unjust, it threatens the future of business innovation, the economy, and global competitiveness.

Here’s why…

Accordingly to Walter Isaacson, author of the book, The Innovators, one incredible woman was catalyst for the innovation and invention that has spawned the digital age as we know it today. Isaacson profiles Ada Lovelace who pioneered software programming and even roughly described the concept of the computer – in the 1840’s (yes, the 1840’s!). Thanks to Ada, we have the software that powers our computers, iPhones, and just about everything else in today’s modern world.

We glorify Wozniac, Dell, Jobs, Gates, and other tech icons. We forget about Lovelace. Thanks to Walter Isaacson, she’s back on the radar.

Fast forward to today…

Of course the world has changed since Ada Lovelace looked at a weaving loom and conceived of the early concept of the computer punch card.  But the same creative connection-making that Lovelace demonstrated over 150 years ago exists today as an inherent competency of most… women.

According to John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio, authors of The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, specific skills like cooperation, communication, and sharing are more commonly associated with women – the success factors required for 21st century leadership.

Women’s acumen around systemic thinking, building networks, using empathy to better understand customer needs, and communication is exactly what drives innovation in today’s world. Business trends like virtual teams, global collaboration, open innovation, and partnerships and alliances all rely on fundamental “feminine” leadership competencies. And these competencies are the future.

This is exactly why Marissa Meyer, Yahoo’s! CEO, abolished the company’s work from home policy. She received a lot of flack for her now famous “no work from home” memo. But if you pull back the layers of the onion, Meyer’s executive decision makes perfect sense, especially for a company that needs to find and create the next big thing in today’s digital world. Innovation requires direct collaboration, networking, and bouncing ideas around. And the easiest way to get this is to put really smart people with diverse backgrounds and skills in the same physical space.

Oh, and this just happens to be the same conclusion that Walter Isaacson shares in his book.

The ROI of all this is actually staring us in the face. Research shows that the organizations most inclusive of women in top management see a 35% higher return on equity (ROE) and 34% greater total shareholder return over their competitors. With these numbers, it’s a no-brainer that any white male with an MBA degree sitting in one of the other 475 Fortune 500 companies should understand – women are the future of business innovation.

Income disparities? Men-only executive suites and board rooms? Time to leapfrog over this BS and into the future.


Be sure to check out The Evolution of Women in Business, infographic,  here.