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Gender equality and training are key to business success — HR specialist

Investment in people will pay off in the long term, KPMG expert says

Image Credit: Agencies
A presentation and collaboration session. Forbes in 2016 concluded that 4 out of 10companies have no women in senior management positions.
Gulf News

Dubai: Gender equality and training people “with high competence” profit businesses, a human resources and performance specialist said.

Peter Haugaard, Head of People, Performance and Culture at global consultancy KPMG, said investing in people could only bring a negative return on investments at the beginning. However, eventually this strategy would “make good business”.

“If you take the investments in any of the individuals in our business, there is a negative return on the investments in the first couple of years, because you basically invest more in training, you can’t charge them the same price in the market,” he said in an interview with Gulf News.

However, the investment in training employees will end up having “well-rounded people who can actually have a conversation with the clients” and understand their needs.

The difference would be in the approach, he said.

“All MBA students across the world are reading the same textbooks. The engineers, more or less the same. The solutions tend to be very similar,” Haugaard said. “But what becomes really interesting is that when you have people from diverse backgrounds, then the solution will become less self-evident. Therefore, it is not going to be an MBA solution, or engineering solution. All of a sudden, you are in a position where all other aspects are playing a role.”

 When I talk to female colleagues who have made it all the way to the top ... they all talk about the supportive environment from when they were young.”

 - Peter Haugaard, Head of People, Performance and Culture at KPMG

Haugaard, who is originally from Denmark, gave the British experience as a good example of training qualified people in different fields.

“They take people with high competence in the City of London and train them in whatever, because they believe what you know will come back again.” The principle is, “we will never hire you for what you know today. We hire you because we believe you have attitude and willingness to learn more. Because we know that whatever you know today is not going to be absolute tomorrow. But it is not going to be at the edge.”

Supportive environment

Apart from paying more attention to training, Haugaard stressed that having women in high managerial positions also brings many returns to businesses.

“When I talk to female colleagues who have made it all the way to the top level, director level, CEO level, managerial level, they all talk about the supportive environment from when they were young,” said Haugaard, who spoke of his 25-year-old daughter and how he supports her. Women in higher positions at businesses, he said, “do not have to be rich. They do not have to come from educated families, but they need to have the support structure in place that gives them a sense that ‘I actually can do it.’”

Gender inequality in managerial positions in businesses has nothing to do with IQ, he stressed, but rather with the work environment and the personal choices, women make in their lives.

The issue is a universal, not limited to a single region in the world, and what it means in the business world is “losing a lot of business opportunities.”

“The issue is the more diverse we become, the more sophisticated we become, the more creative and the more value [we have] to add to domestic product. If we have more women in the leading positions, the better it is. But in order to have them in the leading positions, we need to have them in the middle managerial ranks, which [is where] we lose them,” Haugaard explained.

For example, in the Nordic countries, where the standards of living and gender equality is among the highest around the globe, figures for 2016 show that the rate of women in managerial positions in Denmark at 29 per cent and Iceland, the highest among the Nordic countries, at 37 per cent.

World Bank figures

However, female workforce representation in the Nordic countries reached 47.5 per cent, compared to 45.9 per cent in the rest of Europe, 39.4 per cent in the world, and 21.7 per cent in the Arab world, according to the World Bank figures for 2016.

Quoting G7 statistics, Forbes in 2016 concluded that 4 out of 10 companies have no women in senior management positions. Another survey by S&P covering nearly 500 companies, there are 44.3 per cent of women in the total workforce, 36 per cent in the first managerial level, 25 per cent at senior managerial level and just 4.6 per cent at the executive level.

What is needed is to understand what can support women at work.

“Women would say, ‘I don’t want you to do a favour for me. I just want you to have a level playing field for me ...,” he said.