Women and Corporate Social Responsibility: Move Beyond the Superficial

Women and Corporate Social Responsibility

By Alice Williams

Women are good for business and particularly executive-level women: A study from global accounting firm Grant Thornton found that companies with at least one female executive board member performed better than those with male-only boards. Women play a major role in enabling better decision making at companies, creating sustainable organizations and increasing annual company philanthropic contributions.

Women and corporate social responsibility (CSR) go hand-in-hand. CSR is a solid long-term strategic practice that many of the world’s most successful companies have embraced. Companies with a strong commitment to CSR have been shown to have more satisfied customers which can lead to brand loyalty. While numerous organizations have shown a directional shift towards implementing CSR practices, applying meaningful change takes effort and it can be easy for businesses to take a superficial approach and face being labelled as greenwashing or ‘ethics-washing.’

Why women are crucial to CSR

Devin D. Thorpe, New Media Journalist and “champion of social good”, sees women as the real changemakers in corporate America. He points to the example of Nancy Mahon who is the Senior Vice President, Global Philanthropy and Corporate Citizenship for Estée Lauder.

Estée Lauder owns a variety of brands, including MAC cosmetics, and have raised over half a billion dollars for the MAC AIDS fund. Thorpe states that their annual rate of funding is now approximately $50 millions dollars, which make both Estée Lauder and Nancy Mahon real drivers of change in the global fight against AIDS. Their success is echoed through the collaboration of major celebrities, such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna, who act as spokesperson virtually for free. Estée Lauder, MAC Cosmetics and their distributors have made a real commitment to making a difference and this is what separates genuine CSR programs from ones that are seen as greenwashing or ethicswashing.

How women can drive meaningful CSR

Eighty-six percent of American females stated that they would not work for a firm with a poor CSR reputation. While this has great implications on firms without a CSR vision, women should be encouraged to help drive change from within. Many CSR policies fail because they are not connected in a holistic fashion, and communication barriers arise. Women, who are typically good communicators and capable of empathy, can aid in the quest to create a CSR vision that is at the core of a business’s goals and strategies.

The task of creating a meaningful CSR program is demanding yet essential. It is imperative that both company executives and HR personnel are committed to CSR so that tangible action can be taken. It is not enough to simply claim that CSR is “connected to the core” of their business strategy, the company must be able to show this through physical means, which could include the appointment of a Chief Diversity Officer, support of charities that match their CSR values and etcetera.

What is next for women in CSR?

The future is bright for women in CSR – we continue to see collaboration around CSR programs, with initiatives stemming from Estée Lauder’s global fight against AIDS to Intel’s ‘Diversity in Technology’ initiative. Women should be encouraged to connect their CSR policies not only with charities that impact true change, but initiatives such as Intel’s, which work to invest in women and minority owned companies. It may seem cumbersome to develop programs without a quick return on investment that involve long-term investment, but initiatives such as this are exactly what companies need to turn their attention towards.

Women are making waves in the world of business, but companies need to ensure that they do not lose sight of their core values to direct CSR polices that are conducive to real change. To create genuine change that moves past the superficial, companies must understand the value of an innovative and collaborative company culture. Only then can companies move beyond the superficial.

Image credit: Flickr/WOCinTech Chat

Alice Williams is a communications professional with an MA in Communication Studies. In her spare time, she freelances and blogs about health and wellness over at www.honestlyfitness.com.

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