Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Women in the boardroom and bedroom

Studies reveal that women bring new knowledge, skills and networks to the table, take fewer unnecessary risks and are more inclined to contribute in ways that make their teams and organisations better. -- ST PHOTO: DANIEL NEO 
Studies reveal that women bring new knowledge, skills and networks to the table, take fewer unnecessary risks and are more inclined to contribute in ways that make their teams and organisations better. -- ST PHOTO: DANIEL NEO 

Equality is good for both women and men.

If men want to make their work teams successful, one of the best steps they can take is to bring on more women.

Last autumn, Internet sensation Alibaba went public after years of extraordinary growth as China's largest e-commerce company. The founder, Mr Jack Ma, explained that "one of the secret sauces for Alibaba's success is that we have a lot of women".

Women hold 47 per cent of all jobs at Alibaba and 33 per cent of the senior positions.

Research backs him up. Studies reveal that women bring new knowledge, skills and networks to the table, take fewer unnecessary risks and are more inclined to contribute in ways that make their teams and organisations better.

Successful venture-backed start-ups have more than double the median proportion of female executives of failed ones. And an analysis of the 1,500 Standard & Poor's companies over 15 years demonstrated that, when companies pursued innovation, the more women they had in top management, the more market value they generated.

Some men may wonder whether these benefits for the organisation, and for women, would come at their individual expense, and ask, will I end up lower on the corporate ladder?

No. Equality is not a zero-sum game. More profits mean more rewards and promotions to go around. The risk is in not including women. Teams that fail to leverage on the skills of a diverse workforce fall behind.

Two chief executives, Mr John Chambers of Cisco and Mr Carlos Ghosn of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, have said they cannot be competitive in the global economy without increasing their percentage of female executives.

Doing more housework matters, too. Research shows that when men do their share of chores, their partners are happier and less depressed, conflicts are fewer and divorce rates are lower. They live longer, too; studies demonstrate that there is a longevity boost for men (and women) who provide care and emotional support to their partners later in life.

If that isn't exciting enough, try this: Couples who share chores equally have more sex. As researchers Constance Gager and Scott Yabiku put it, men and women who work hard, play hard.

One of us, Ms Sandberg, has advised men that if they want to do something nice for their partners, instead of buying flowers, they should do the laundry.

Stepping up as a father also benefits men. Caring for children can make men more patient, empathetic and flexible, and lower their rates of substance abuse.

At Fortune 500 companies, when fathers spend more time with their children, they are more satisfied with their jobs. And fatherhood itself has also been linked to lower blood pressure and lower rates of cardiovascular disease.

But the greatest positive impact may be on the next generation. Research in numerous countries reveals that children of involved fathers are healthier, happier and less likely to have behavioural problems. They are also more likely to succeed in school and, later, in their careers.

A powerful study led by University of British Columbia psychologist Alyssa Croft showed that, when fathers shouldered an equal share of housework, their daughters were less likely to limit their aspirations to stereotypically female occupations.

What mattered most was what fathers did, not what they said. For a girl to believe she has the same opportunities as boys, it makes a big difference to see dad doing the dishes.

The flip side is true, too - sons reap rewards when their mothers have meaningful roles at work.

Years ago, psychologists found that a surprisingly high number of the United States' most creative architects were raised by "distinctly autonomous mothers" who were community leaders or accomplished professionals. And in a recent study by researchers Kathryn Dekas of Google and Wayne Baker of the University of Michigan, the people who found their jobs most meaningful and enjoyable were those whose fathers and mothers were highly engaged at work.

When children see their mothers pursuing careers and their fathers doing housework, they are more likely to carry gender equality forward to the next generation. And when we make headway towards gender equality, entire societies prosper.

Twenty-five per cent of US gross domestic product growth since 1970 is attributed to the increase in women entering the paid workforce. Today, economists estimate that raising women's participation in the workforce to the same level as men could raise GDP another 5 per cent in the US - and 9 per cent in Japan and 34 per cent in Egypt.

To make gender parity a reality, we need to change the way we advocate for it. The usual focus is on fairness: To achieve justice, we need to give women equal opportunities.

We need to go further and articulate why equality is not just the right thing to do for women, but also the desirable thing for us all.

The women's suffrage movement in the late 19th century provides a good case study. States did not grant voting rights when women campaigned for justice; suffrage laws were passed only when women described how having the right to vote would enable them to improve society.

Many men who support equality hold back because they worry it is not their battle. It is time for men and women alike to join forces in championing gender parity.

NEW YORK TIMES