Ready or not, the marketplace is changing. In fact, it has changed. I attended the Pennsylvania Conference for Women in November where approximately 8,000 women from the area participated in a day of sharing ideas, learning from each other and networking. And that is not the only conference of its type. Women across the country are involved in various women’s organizations from industry associations to professional groups. Women are getting together to talk about leadership, success and how to change the world. And you don’t have to look too far to see those changes beginning to take hold. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), more than 9.4 million firms are owned by women, employing nearly 7.9 million people, and generating $1.5 trillion in sales as of 2015. Women-owned firms (51% or more) account for 31% of all privately held firms and contribute 14% of employment and 12% of revenues. Additionally, one in five firms with revenue of $1 million or more is woman-owned and 4.2% of all women-owned firms have revenues of 1 million or more.
So what does all of this mean for companies and professional service firms? If more and more women have the power to decide who they want to do business with, what happens to the organizations that don’t focus on gender diversity and inclusion or that have an initiative that is more lip-service than real leadership and success? Already we know that companies look for gender diversity in their professional service firms. When submitting RFP’s for work, there are often questions about the gender composition of the firm itself, and then of the team specifically proposed to lead the engagement. The new reality is that clients will choose, and have chosen, not to award work to service firms that they feel do not support women and it will increasingly happen more with time. In addition, with the ever-growing number of women-owned businesses and women entrepreneurs, service firms that cannot demonstrate a true commitment to the success of women through a measurable, substantive, meaningful program will not get that business and will simply be left behind. For companies, these women are potential clients and customers who have the decision making power to choose who they give their business to. And chances are, they will want to work with companies that reflect who they are and what is important to them.
At the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, Gloria Steinem talked about how change in the workplace is not happening fast enough and that we need a revolution. Perhaps we are on the precipice of that revolution as more and more women are at the forefront of the ever-changing business world. For those companies and firms that do not make the commitment now, by the time they realize the mistake, it will be too late – the floodgates will be open and the opportunities already lost. Now is the time to get on board – to recognize the importance of gender diversity initiatives that create meaningful change – so that your company or firm can successfully compete in the new reality.