Women's value: beyond the business case for diversity and inclusion

Elsevier, The Lancet, Volume 393, Issue 10171, 9–15 February 2019, Pages 515-516.
Cordelia Fine and Victor Sojo

This Lancet issue on women in medicine seeks to address some confronting topics: from a “system imbued with gender bias” to the “unequal distribution of power within societies”. These important ideas can at times feel like endangered concepts: in discussions about equality in recent decades, principles of equity and social justice have been increasingly crowded out by market logic and rhetoric. Consider journalist Anand Giridharadas's account of a breakout session at a Clinton Global Initiative conference on harnessing the power of girls and women for sustainable development. As Giridharadas describes it, the discussion emphasised the competitive advantage and business opportunities to be reaped from women's rise. That female empowerment is smart for business is, Giridharadas wryly observes, “the highest praise a cause could receive”. And, while there can be value in pointing out the economic benefits of doing the right thing, the business-case approach makes striving for equality seem discretionary; just one of many things an organisation could do to increase its performance or competitive advantage. As Giridharadas ironically suggests: “If the logic of our time had applied to the facts of an earlier age, someone would have put out a report suggesting that ending slavery was great for reducing the trade deficit.”