Women As Commodities: The Underbelly of the Gender-For-Profit Motive

“When more women lead, performance improves. Firms with more women in top management are more profitable; companies with more gender diversity have more revenue, customers, market share and profits.”    – Sheryl Sandberg

“Data analyzed by Catalyst reveals that…companies with the highest percentage of women directors outperformed companies…with the lowest percentage by 26% (measured by return on invested capital).”
~ Forbes 

It’s terrific that we can now quantify women’s positive impact on the bottom line. It verifies what we know intuitively: that diversity is good for business. That’s something to celebrate.

But there’s an underbelly to quantifying human value in monetary terms. It supports a mindset of women as a commodity, as a thing to be used for shareholders’ benefit. This doesn’t feel like progress to me; it feels like regression.

Are we really comfortable with measuring human value in such utilitarian terms? Let’s say this actually works for women, that their profit potential affords them greater access to the top ranks. Does this then become the burden of proof for other groups who have been traditionally excluded? Do we give people a place at the table only when they can prove themselves profitable to those already seated there?

Women are not commodities. They are neither a “strategic imperative” nor a means to an end. I’m not saying that there’s no role for an economic case for gender equality. But at best, it’s a partial measure of value; at worst, it’s an immoral one.



3 replies
  1. Laura M
    Laura M says:

    Leslie, I don’t see this is such stark terms (eg…women as a commodity) but the success/profits from the inclusion of women in the top ranks of the corporate world should be dissected to show WHY and HOW the value of the company has improved. My guess is that the evidence will show that it is directly related to the way women manage — through inclusion, open communication and an emphasis on the good of the whole. So your questions are not wrong — it is kind of a cart before the horse thing in my eyes :).

  2. Laurie C. Hoes
    Laurie C. Hoes says:

    We are all commodities in the market place…A better question is what are the characteristics unique to Women’s Leadership that can be leveraged to encourage public & private enterprise to assist women to enter, advance and become leaders in said enterprise as matter of course vice exception. LcH

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