by Andre’ Schnabl

November 12, 2010

Remarks from Andre’ Schnabl, managing partner, Grant Thornton
WIT’s Women of the Year in Technology Awards presented by Grant Thornton November 10, 2010

Having been part of this celebration from the very beginning, makes this evening a little like a family reunion– being surrounded by friends and feeling very comfortable. Tonight I would like to share a little about why the success of women in leadership roles is so important and why Grant Thornton’s involvement with these awards is so important to us.

A multitude of research studies have shown that organizations with more diversity within  their board and senior leadership levels outperform those with less diversity. According to Catalyst, these organizations enjoy a significantly higher ROI, their return on sales is higher and their return on invested capital is higher.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Loyola University have found that diverse groups tend to outperform their homogeneous counterparts, even when the groups have equal abilities. Diverse management teams make better business decisions while bringing more innovation and creativity to the table.

Progress for women achieving leadership positions over the past 20 years has been significant, and that progress is reflected in the number of women managers at our largest companies and professional services firms, but it continues to be a slow journey to the very top. We know that women who are visible leaders serve as powerful role models and mentors to young women coming up the pipeline. So women in leadership roles not only support superior enterprise performance, they are the very engine that ensures continued diversity.

Additionally, we are facing a major demographic shift with the retirement of people like me, our Baby Boomer generation. Gen X is poised to take over the leadership of corporate America – but there is just one problem – Gen X is 40% smaller than the Boomers. So, it is pretty easy math to see that there are not enough people to do the jobs we need if only men do them.  According to a recent report by the Center for Work-Life Policy, unless we are prepared to include our talented, educated women in the leadership structure in higher numbers, we risk a serious drop in quality and competitiveness in major sectors of our economy. 

Research has also shown that for the past two decades relying solely on gender parity in education and entry level hiring will not result in gender parity in senior leadership. We see this every day in our Firm! When it comes to top talent, women lag men in advancement, compensation and career satisfaction.

So really, making sure that more women move into leadership positions is not just a women’s issue – advancing women serves us all – men and women, businesses and institutions – and we all can reap the benefits derived from diverse, more innovative organizations.

As I look back at this event over the past decade; an event that has produced  nominees, finalists and winners, I see the creation of a wave of ambassadors, supporting the development of women in leadership positions in the world of technology. During the first decade of these awards, an astounding 400 women have been nominated as honorees from over 300 different organizations…that is four hundred ambassadors, in my book. 

Honorees, I would like to suggest that being nominated is not only an honor, but also a responsibility as stewards of our future. Although the 300 organizations that produced our nominees are clearly supportive of the development of women leaders, a minority of these businesses have a defined strategic initiative driven from the C-suite to enhance the recruitment, retention and advancement of women in their organizations. You, honorees, can help to change that.

I have seen firsthand the impact of such an initiative at Grant Thornton and that is why our firm is excited to be a sponsor of these awards. We formally adopted our initiative, known as “Women at Grant Thornton”, in 2004 and the leader of that initiative reports directly to our CEO.

Since the inception of Women at Grant Thornton we have tripled the number of women partners and 30% of our women partners hold leadership positions, in the firm.  This initiative has also helped us earn national recognition by several organizations and publications including being named one of the top 10 best companies to work for, by “Working Mother” magazine.

My point here is not to boast about Grant Thornton’s accomplishments for women, but to illustrate the importance of a declared priority in an enterprise, if we really want to move the needle in the development of our young promising women.

A strong diversity initiative also provides visible female role models. There is a much better chance of retaining a high performing woman if she is able to visualize herself as a future leader of the organization. A strong diversity initiative includes mentoring and coaching programs that help women navigate corporate politics and learn how to gain the necessary exposure for top assignments.

Can you just imagine the impact if all 300 of the organizations that have gifted us our honorees in the past decade, adopt a formal initiative focused on women, in the next decade?

The 2010 Women of the Year in Technology Award honorees are all ambassadors who have already earned the respect of their organization. You can influence the adoption of a defined diversity program within your organization. This is our challenge, this is our responsibility: to leverage the remarkable success of these awards, into even greater success for women in the future.

Finally, let me congratulate this year’s honorees and wish our finalists good luck this evening.

Thank you.

View information on WIT’s Women of the Year in Technology Awards