As a Japanese mother of three, the topic of diversity in the workplace strikes close to home. But diversity is not just a construct designed to right an imbalance. It’s an untapped superpower that all businesses and governments have the potential to access.

For governments, diversity holds particular resonance. Although politics matters little to the average citizen between elections, few leadership roles have as much ability to shape the lives of millions of people. This is because public sector leaders are tasked with immense responsibilities – ranging from the day-to-day jobs of collecting recycling and renewing passports through to tackling deep-rooted global issues such as economic inequality, the refugee crisis and climate change.

These are just a few examples, but they demonstrate why we need the best and the brightest – meaning women – at decision-making tables. But it’s not just about numbers.

The power of diversity

Diversity offers two major benefits: it buffers change by avoiding the riskiness of monocultures and, more importantly, it creates the platform upon which innovation and adaptation operate. Individuals from varied backgrounds approach challenges with fundamentally diverse points of view, leading to better innovation and stronger results for both the public and private sectors.

Don’t take my word for it. Evidence abounds of how gender diversity in the boardroom correlates to better financial performance – Fortune 500 companies with the greatest representation of women in management positions deliver returns to shareholders that are 34% higher than those of companies with the lowest representation, according to a report from Catalyst. These performance gains hold true for nearly every industry across the globe. A separate study found that boards need a critical mass of about 30% women to outperform all-male boards. I’m proud to say that The Boston Consulting Group’s executive committee, of which I’m an elected member, recently reached this 30% threshold.

It’s not all good news, however – far from it. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then in 2015, they estimated that a further slowdown meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133. Clearly, the day when governments and business become representative of the societies in which they operate and serve remains a long way off.

Given this context, it can be tempting to deploy any means necessary to increase the numbers of women in the workplace. In recent years, we have seen a wave of publications and pronouncements on the merits of diversity but, as a 2015 B Team report showed, it’s not just about meeting targets. Well-intentioned organisations make a mistake when they promote unqualified candidates for the sake of diversity. This is because it takes time to recruit and promote top talent. Those who get it right will reap the long-term rewards.

Quality, not quantity

It’s important to remember that those who enter government service do so for the best of reasons. Not for them a life of big bucks and little scrutiny. Instead, they choose to enter the arena in order to strengthen society and make a positive difference. This allure continues to hold strong, even for debt-laden millennials.

Tapping this talent requires governments to zero in on recruiting and retaining the right people, men and women alike. Take Singapore, for example, as policymakers frequently do – groups from around the world frequently make pilgrimages to the city state to find out the secrets of its long-lasting success.

There they find a public service that is prepared to make significant investments through scholarships and compensation. Admittedly, theirs is a system that has not endured the austerity that has gripped so many other governments, but some of their techniques could easily be replicated elsewhere. For example, university scholarships are offered to high-calibre candidates who are willing to serve four to six years in the public service.

Recruits also benefit from a compensation framework that continuously benchmarks pay levels against the market rates paid for comparable positions in the private sector. This takes place in an environment that also emphasises meritocracy – a key tenet in the vision of Singapore’s founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew.

Such an approach underlines why diversity alone is not enough to deliver the strong results that governments and citizens alike aspire to. While more diverse teams are a vital step towards stronger results, talent remains a key ingredient in the complex elixir that makes up modern policymaking.

With this in mind, government recruiters need to pause before greenlighting new recruits on the basis of gender alone. Those who take time to recruit and promote the top talent will reap the inevitable rewards.


  • Window on the workforce. To preserve and enhance the public impact of their organisations, government leaders must dramatically improve how they recruit, train and manage talent, says Agnès Audier
  • Tapping the talent. Organisations from the public and private sector have long sought to attract the best and brightest – and Indonesia is no exception, says Edwin Utama. But more needs to be done to attract the best talent into government service
  • Labour pains. A high-functioning workforce cannot be taken for granted, says Danny Werfel. He explains why a period of greater investment in skills and training will lead to stronger government performance in the US
  • Millennials and the future of government. Many graduates might be tempted by a higher salary or perks from the private sector, but Virginia Hill, President of Young Government Leaders, says public service still holds substantial allure