The Woman's Role in Sustainability

Mon, 2012-01-09 09:45

Gone are the days when women were expected to stay at home full time. Now, women are not only encouraged to work alongside men, but a recent study from Catalyst and Harvard Business School (HBS) shows that female contributions are wildly beneficial. The research shows a strong connection between having more women on boards and in executive management and “greater corporate social responsibility.”

Catalyst is an organization that devotes much of its research to better understanding women in the workforce and in business leadership. The organization partnered with the Harvard Business School on a study titled “Gender and Corporate Social Responsibility: It’s a Matter of Sustainability,” in which the research revealed that companies with the highest representation of female leaders financially outperform, on average, companies with the lowest. This information was the tip of the iceberg and led Catalyst and HBS to find out whether or not gender-inclusive leadership goes beyond financials.

It should be noted that the findings of this study focused on philanthropy and corporate giving as the key indicators of corporate social responsibility. HBS research had already established these two qualities as the most visible characteristics of corporate social responsibility in the United States. The study’s co-authors believe this information should be considered just the beginning of the ways corporations benefit from having more women, and in all ranks.

In 2007, annual company contributions were 28 times higher in companies with gender diverse boardrooms (3 or more female directors) and 13 times higher in companies with gender diverse leadership teams (25% or more female corporate officers). Between 1997 and 2007, each additional female board director increased annual philanthropic giving by $2.3 million, and for each percentage increase in the presence of female corporate officers, annual philanthropic giving increased by $5.7 million.

The co-authors of the study concluded their report with additional research questions, which included the following: Do companies committed to corporate social responsibility attract more diverse leaders, or does having a more gender-diverse leadership lead to increases in corporate social responsibility? More importantly, if philanthropic giving is merely a baseline indicator of women’s relationship to corporate social responsibility, what other affects could female contributions have regarding overall corporate sustainability?

One might claim that, based on these results, companies that have already paid attention to gender inclusivity are likely to be much further ahead on the sustainability curve. It makes one question what it is about women enables them to become leaders in the corporate social responsibility realm. The study’s co-authors have hypothesized that women possess traits such as kindness, helpfulness, concern for others, and warmth and that they inherently have values aligned with those of a successful sustainability strategy. Such a strategy, which would modify organizational procedures, should also place emphasis on helpfulness and concern for others.

In short, corporate sustainability is simply not closed off to just men. Some people look at the green building and energy efficiency industries and believe it’s purely a man’s world. Historically, maybe this kind of work was reserved for men, but it’s 2012 now - if you’re a woman, and you want to make our environment a safer and healthier place for all, then now is the time to get involved in this industry! This study proves that women can be just as influential, if not more, than men.

Ladies, if you’re ready to take the sustainability industry by storm, check out our Corporate Sustainability training and provide yourself with the technical knowledge you need to make a difference!

By Lesley Cowie

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