Barack Obama says for organisations to perform better, bring more women leaders to the table

At the Reshape 2021 Summit, Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America, spoke to Hande Çilingir, Co-founder and CEO, Insider about why women leaders are important for startups and companies.

While culture, talent retention and leaders having long-term thinking are important, President Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America, said in a conversation with Hande Cilingir, Co-founder and CEO, Insider at Reshape 2021 summit that diversity — gender and racial — is always the key.

"The first thing any good leader understands is that no matter how smart you are, no matter how hard-working you are, no matter how strategic you are — there are some things you don't know; there are some perspectives you don't have; there are some experiences that are missing in your life. And so, if all you have people around you who think exactly like you, look like you, went to the same schools, and did things the same way, then as a group. there are going to be things like missing blind spots, and having misunderstandings and biases," said President Obama.

He added that therefore, it isn't important to surround yourself with people who think or look or act like you, but to have people who can challenge, raise questions, and help in thinking in new ways and offer different perspectives.

"And so, I made a point in all my work — and that includes during the presidency — of surrounding myself with strong people who have different perspectives and backgrounds. I think it also means diversity in terms of people's economic backgrounds, gender, race, people's political, or conceptual views," he said.

The most important aspect, he said, is to make sure there are more women around.

"If you look at the measures of company performance, companies that have a strong number of women on their boards do better in the stock market, and are more effective. If you look at countries who have women leaders, or women are participating in leadership, and decision-making — those countries tend to perform better. Countries that educate women and girls, and give them full opportunity to be part of the society are more successful societies than those that don't."

Citing a football analogy, Obama said, "It is like trying to build a football team and not allowing half the people to try out for the team. You're shrinking your talent pool and that doesn't make sense."

Taking a personal example from his tenure as president, Obama said,

"When I was in the White House, I would see the men around the table feel uncomfortable if women were challenging them. And so, I'd have to coach them and say — 'look, just because you're a man doesn't make you right'. I think sometimes there's that sense of privilege where some men believe that they somehow know more. But no you don't."

He added that people need to pay attention and that it is the responsibility of every leader to create a diverse pool of talent and bring people who historically haven't been at the table, whether that's women, racial minorities or religious minorities, and also have them empowered — and that's an important role that a leader can play.

"And I promise you, any leader will perform better if you have more points of view involved in your organisation because your market is diverse. We no longer have a market for just one community, or even one nation. If you're going to be successful in this global marketplace, then you're going to have to be able to learn how to reach them to speak to a whole range of different kinds of people. And that means they're bringing on talent that is reflective of that diversity."

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Edited by Kanishk Singh