By Susan McPherson, Senior Vice President, FENTON
What role do women play in corporate social responsibility – as a consumer, as a board member, as an employee? Three areas shine through.
If we look to some of the key tenets of corporate responsibility, we are likely to think of green (sustainability) compassion (philanthropy), and transparency (open, consistent and honest dialogue). These are areas in which women shine, and can also make tremendous contributions to corporations and other organizations.
“Companies are realizing that advancing more women to senior leadership roles has many benefits, including increased financial performance and sustainability,” said Anabel Pérez, Senior Vice President of Development at Catalyst, regarding the organization’s recent study Gender and Corporate Social Responsibility: It’s a Matter of Sustainability. “As this study shows, inclusive leadership has a positive influence on the quantity and quality of an organization’s CSR initiatives. When business leadership includes women, society wins.”
Women and Green
When we think about creating sustainable organizations, why is it so important to include women and address imbalances?
In their book Women in Green, authors Kira Gould and Lance Hosey argued that women are more likely than men to support environmental causes through voting, activism and consumer choices. When surveyed, women consistently rate the environment as one of their greatest concerns.
Women clearly have a stake in the future of the environment and are taking action. Take Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai, for example, who launched the Green Belt Movement, which has planted millions of trees in Kenya and transformed women into powerful advocates for their rights, good governance and democracy, and natural resource protection.
Habiba Sarabi, the governor of Bamiyan Province and the first female governor in Afghanistan, created her country’s first national park, Band-e Amir, protecting 220 square miles of pristine lakes and limestone canyons. Her work has inspired local communities to join her environmental efforts.
Mary Mavanza from Tanzania has helped hundreds of Tanzanian women start environmentally sustainable businesses through microcredit loans and by providing training in accounting.
Women and Philanthropy
What’s good for women is good for business and also for society. Researchers at Catalyst and Harvard Business School, who conducted the Gender and Corporate Social Responsibility study, tracked philanthropic donations in Fortune 500 companies from 1997 to 2007. According to their findings, companies with more women at the top may be better practitioners of corporate social responsibility.
Catalyst and HBS researchers found that companies with more women board directors and corporate officers contributed significantly more charitable funds, on average, than companies with fewer or no women in senior positions. Companies with more women corporate officers donated significantly more funds between 1997 and 2007, and for each percentage point increase in women corporate officers, yearly donations increased by $5.7 million.
How does such philanthropy help a company? It enhances its reputation among stakeholders, leads to positive coverage in the news media, helps expose itself to new constituencies and provides a unique means to differentiate itself from peers and competitors.
Women and Social Engagement
Companies looking to reach women — whether as consumers, entrepreneurs, employees, or advocates — have an unprecedented opportunity through social media to engage them. For women, social media presents abundant opportunities to lead, effect change, innovate, and build relationships across sectors, locally, nationally, and globally.
Women are leading the way in social media. The fastest growing segment on Facebook is women over 55 (Inside Facebook 2009). Women of every age are spending increasingly more and more time than men on social media sites (comScore 2010) and are engaging in greater numbers around brands. A recent study by ZDNet indicates that young women are power users of social media. The research shows that 89 percent of women aged 18-29 use social media, often on a daily basis.
Given this data, as well as the massive social media backlash by women to the Susan G. Komen Foundation fiasco, companies should take note. It would be in their best interest to staff key communications roles with women (along with talented men) who can respond and engage with constituents online in a meaningful dialogue. Doing so will prevent such eruptions from turning into the large scale crises we just witnessed when Komen pulled funding from Planned Parenthood.
Robust CSR programs aren’t just good for society; they’re good for business. Companies that invest in innovative CSR initiatives internally and externally often experience positive financial returns. Any organization serious about being competitive in the CSR space and embracing the values of compassion, sustainability and transparency would be smart to seek women for leadership and board positions. But it shouldn’t stop there. Companies should look more closely at the ways in which women think, make decisions, and “do business” in order to educate their staffs on how to execute meaningful and successful CSR programs. Collectively, efforts like these will begin to transform the way that our society imagines corporate leadership.
Susan McPherson is senior vice president/director of global marketing at Fenton, the nation’s leading public interest communications firm. McPherson focuses on creating visibility for the firm and its clients on a global scale while also continuing to help further grow its corporate responsibility practice. She’s a regular writer and contributor for publications such as the Harvard Business Review, Triple Pundit, Forbes and Environmental Leader on sustainability and global development issues and routinely speaks at industry conferences. She has more than 20 years experience in marketing, public relations, CSR communications and business development. Prior to joining Fenton, McPherson was vice president, CSR services at PR Newswire, a leading provider of electronic news distribution, media targeting, and measurement and multimedia services. Prior to her career at PR Newswire, she worked in both the editorial and marketing departments of USA Today.
McPherson holds a B.A in history from the State University of New York at Albany and conducted graduate studies at Boston University’s College of Communications. She serves on the board of Bpeace, an organization dedicated to assisting women in regions of conflict and post-conflict start businesses. She also is a member of Echoing Green’s Social Investment Council, Social Media Week’s New York Advisory Council and the New York Leadership team for 85Broads. Additionally, she serves as an adviser to the non-profits: Plant A Fish, She’s The First, The Adventure Project and The OpEd Project. Recently, McPherson was selected as a Vital Voices global corporate ambassador.
Follow her on Twitter: @susanmcp1
image: Stefano Corso via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)