By Melissa J. Anderson

On Friday, The Impact Center hosted the first ever Gender Intelligence Summit in Washington, DC, which focused on what Gender Intelligence is and how it can help advance the diversity conversation at today’s top companies.

Yesterday, we discussed how Gender Intelligence can help further the diversity and inclusion conversation – by focusing on and valuing differences between the genders, rather than the similarities.

By implementing diversity programming that incorporates the value of these differences, companies can change the structure and culture of their workforce. As Marie Wilson, Founder of The White House Project commented at the Summit, “Gender is not just a matter of how people get along or how companies make money. It’s a matter of how decisions get made.” How can companies better take advantage of Gender Intelligence differences?

Gender Intelligence and Work Life Issues

According to John Hart, Founder and CEO of the Impact Center, women are more likely to leave a company not because of work/life issues, but because they don’t feel valued.

But these two issues are linked. When companies don’t provide a ways for women to deal with personal or family responsibilities, they don’t feel that their contributions within the company are valued.

One way to change this perception, explained Dr. Marianne Legato, Professor of Clinical Medicine and Founder and Director of the Partnership for Women’s Health at Columbia University, is to simply accommodate the career needs of women better – so they aren’t inclined to leave the workforce when structural barriers stand in the way.

When women take time out for maternity leave, she said, “women lose their place, they lose prestige, and they lose productivity. Companies should accommodate women. What if instead of a linear road to the top, a jagged road with plateaus?”

Similarly, Jennifer Allyn, Managing Director within the Office of Diversity at PwC, said that her firm is working to better show that it values women. She explained that the path to partnership at the firm is a 12-year journey, “and it’s completely synonymous with the biological clock.”

But it doesn’t have to be a direct, linear path. She asked, “Why are we so rigid just because we have always been rigid?”

PwC’s internal research search showed that women didn’t want to have to negotiate time off for family responsibilities – they felt that by being forced to ask permission for time off, they were being undervalued. “They want it to be okay without having to ask,” Allyn explained.

So PwC has implemented its Full Circle initiative, to accommodate different pathways to the top. The Full Circle initiative enables individuals at the firm to take up to 5 years out and come back. She added that by formalizing the maternity leave program, the firm was psychologically “giving permission” to do something differently. “The more we can take people’s individual decisions out of their hands, we can make it easier, we make it that it’s okay.”

While the program is primarily utilized by women, she explained, men have also taken advantage of it – and individuals are using it for reasons beyond child care and elder care, which also adds to its legitimacy as a means for career advancement.

Building Relationships

Gender Intelligence can be used beyond the talent management scope as well, explained Barbara Annis, Founder and CEO of Barbara Annis & Associates and Chair of the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. There is a link between talent retention new customer acquisition.

In a conversation with Ramon Martin, President, Merchant Services Americas at American Express, she asked how gender intelligence has been embraced by leadership at the company.

He said, “The moment you start thinking about diversity of thinking, gender intelligence becomes very natural.”

“You need to generate shareholder returns. If you can’t retain the best talent, both male and female, if you can retain and become a magnet for talent, good things happen for customers.” He continued, “When employees are more engaged, they make better decisions. By default, our shareholders will make more money.”

At Amex, Martin explained, because of the number of financial decisions handled by women, it was clear that different kinds of thinking were needed when interacting with customers. Many companies are male oriented and analytically driven when it comes to transaction management, he continued, “But we say we don’t manage transactions, we nurture relationships.”

For example, he said, through the financial crisis, Amex has worked to provide flexibility around credit card payments for customers who are having financial difficulties. Customer service representatives are encouraged to work with customers to provide solutions and nurture relationships.

“When you provide this flexibility, it takes it to some place tangible at the end of the day.”

As a result, he said, Amex has survived the financial crisis well, and has come out significantly ahead of its competitors.