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Kristof: Women in power shouldn't be a novelty

Twitter is on schedule to go public as a company next month, a sparkling symbol of innovation, technology — and stale, old thinking reflected in a board of seven white men.

Twitter users are reportedly more likely to be female, so it's bizarre to have no women on the board. But the main reason to add women — not just on Twitter's board, but in politics, business and the news media — isn't just equity. This shouldn't be seen as a favor to women but as a step that would be good for all of us.

In business, there's abundant evidence that inclusion of women in senior positions is linked to better results. Catalyst, a research organization, found that the companies with the most female board directors earned a 26 percent higher return on invested capital than the companies with the fewest women.

Likewise, McKinsey & Co. found that the international companies with more women on their corporate boards far outperformed the average company in return on equity and other measures. Operating profit was 56 percent higher.

This isn't just about boardrooms, though. In the recent government shutdown debacle, some of the first efforts at hammering out a deal to end the crisis came from a group of women in the Senate who were disheartened by the political paralysis. Time magazine's headline online was: "Women Are the Only Adults Left in Washington."

That's progress: The Senate built a restroom off the floor for female members only in 1993, and now, a couple decades later, women are providing adult supervision in the "old boys' club."

Still, there's a long way to go.

The World Economic Forum plans to release its annual Global Gender Gap Report on Thursday, and the United States ranks an embarrassing 23rd out of 136 countries in the status of women. The U.S. has actually slipped one slot since a year ago and does particularly poorly by international standards in wage equality and in numbers of women in the legislative branch.

Hard-nosed business executives seem to get that this is more than a social justice issue. In a survey by Spencer Stuart, the executive search firm, and Corporate Board Member, a company that researches corporate boards, 4 out of 5 board members said that they believed that boardroom diversity "generally results in increased value for shareholders."

Yet of Fortune 500 companies, roughly 18 percent of board members are female. At this rate, it'll be after 2050 before women hold half of board seats.


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