CorporateFebruary 19, 2020

“If you create more diversity, you attract more diversity,” says Nancy McKinstry, CEO & Chairman of Wolters Kluwer

The importance of women's quota to speed up the process.

In September 2019, the Social and Economic Council (SER) advised the Dutch government to encourage the appointment of more women at the top management layers of the business world. The Council suggested that there needs to be a 30% quota for women for the Supervisory Boards of listed companies. “I believe that a quota will speed up the process,” says Nancy McKinstry, CEO & Chairman of Wolters Kluwer. “If you create more diversity, you attract more diversity. The only way to win this talent is by creating more diversity.”

In a weekend edition column of the influential Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Nancy McKinstry shares her thoughts through a conversation with Herna Verhagen, CEO of PostNL, on a women’s quota, the importance of filling talent pipelines, and how diversity contributes to the success of a company, in a conversation with Herna Verhagen, CEO of PostNL.

“To make a company successful, we should not focus purely on individuals. The secret of success lies in building strong teams – especially in a knowledge-intensive company like Wolters Kluwer. Good teamwork inside the company, and together with customers, is the only way to ensure high-quality, innovative products. A strong team is a diverse team. Diversity generates more creativity and better decision-making. This has a direct effect on company results, as research demonstrates. At Wolters Kluwer, we cultivate diversity in all its aspects: gender, nationality, experience, skills, and so on.”

McKinstry previously indicated that she did not support this type of government interference in the corporate sector. However, she has changed her mind during her years as CEO. “I always strongly believed in the meritocracy and that women would find their own way to these leadership positions over time. But I realized about two or three years ago how little progress we had made. I continued to hear people mention in the boardrooms that there just weren't enough qualified women, and that's simply not true. I believe that a quota will speed up the process. Government and shareholders also play a key role in this.”

Under their leadership, the proportion of women in senior management positions in both companies has already grown beyond that percentage. McKinstry: “50 percent of our Executive Board are women and 67 percent of our management team.”

McKinstry is convinced that more diversity at the top leads to better decisions: “if you create more diversity, you attract more diversity, like a flywheel. Employers are becoming more selective. Millennials, who are used to job hopping anyway, do not want to continue working at Wolters Kluwer if they realize that there are no career opportunities. And there is a war on the labor market to attract talent. The only way to win this talent is by attracting and retaining more diversity.”

“At Wolters Kluwer we have four divisions, three of which are headed up by women. That would never have happened if we didn't have women in the pipeline. It happened organically, there was no deliberate program,” explains McKinstry.

According to the SER advisory report, one of the reasons why few women currently progress to the top is the high percentage of women in the Netherlands who work part-time (60 percent). McKinstry agrees, “You work all the time, so it's important to have your priorities straight. “I traveled a lot. There was even a period that I commuted between New York and Chicago. During this time, I had almost no social life outside of my family. The free time that I did have, I wanted to spend with my kids.”

McKinstry started her career during a time when women at the top of the business world were still a rarity, and they were often the only women in the boardroom. “It never bothered me,” says McKinstry. “I love my work and I chose to focus on that. I kept myself busy with delivering results.”

“The reason I am so enthusiastic about diversity is that I have seen from my own experience that the most diverse teams achieve the best results,” she concluded.

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