Improving Gender Diversity by Committing to Corporate Social Responsibility

When the world is uncertain you will be left with two assets to reinvent yourself: the resilience of your processes and your people, an irreproducible source of competitive advantage. Diversity of thinking is the new competitive advantage as the Deloitte surveys finds and this is heavily reliant on the diversity of experience, skills and knowledge.

Diversity is defined as the full spectrum of human demographic differences (ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, ability, education, sexual orientation and so on). Diversity in an organisation is said to be a substantial matter for 69% of executives but this often lacks traction, communication and strategy. On the other side of the job market, 2/3 of passive and active job seekers consider diversity a crucial aspect of their potential new workplace. This is especially true for women (72%), Black respondents (89%) and Asian respondents (80%). Employees look for a fair pay and beyond, they are driven more than ever by mission and purpose and require a workplace culture that delivers it (Gallup, 2017).

An extended body of research has focused on the benefits of women representation all across organisations. Academia has also shown that women, more than men, want to have a positive impact on the world through work and other activities, influencing their career choice. I will demonstrate that increasing and improving CSR initiatives will be a factor in making the workplace a more diverse and inclusive place. In result, such schemes improving the three bottom lines that are the corporation’s profit, it’s societal and environmental impact.

CSR framework, the Triple Bottom Line defined by Elkington, 1994

In order to attract and retain more women in the company, CSR programmes have to be scoped, designed, implemented and communicated efficiently. I will present the reasons for increasing the gender diversity of employees and managers, then explain the interest of women for organisation with strong CSR strategies and propose ideas to create or better existing CSR schemes.

I. Why companies should increase the number of women:

Improved financial results

When most companies are driven by a financial bottom line it is difficult to overlook this aspect in any change programme. Research has put forward many financial benefits of improving the gender diversity in an organisation.

Indeed, companies with at least three women on the board financially outperform the ones without. Gallup concluded a study of 800 business units that gender diverse BUs generated 14% higher average comparable revenue.

Women make over 80% of consumer purchasing decisions, therefore, by having employees who are similar minded and empathise with your customers, you will be able to reach the customer base more efficiently (Yaccato, 2007). Purchases seen as traditionally done by male customers, such as cars, have been driven increasingly by female customers – excuse the pun. The example of automobile shopping as presented in this article would encourage companies to empathise to target the decision maker, women, capturing more sales. One would even dare to argue women would be a good fit for grasping the needs and desires of women… We can take the example of Nissan who designed car dealerships for women. These dealerships are run exclusively by a female workforce. The CEO at the time gathered that 80% of women preferred having a women sales agent and men were indifferent, hence the new offer.

Taking the acceptance even further, we may one day have a workforce that is truly representative of society in all aspects, shapes and forms beyond gender! But I am drifting away.

Sharper problem solving

In addition to the economic benefits of gender diversity, we can find the intellectual benefits, an asset that the organisation should utilise to generate innovative ideas, realising it’s strategic objectives (Edvinsson, L. and Malone, M. 1997).

Diversity of ways of thinking brings better problem solving. Whether it should be the case or not, gendered upbringing means that some character traits prevail amongst one gender. The diversity of experiences in the world will shape the way the individual innovates, solves problems and optimises risks.

Employee engagement

The level of employee engagement at work is a affected by the gender diversity of that same workplace. Indeed, a gender balanced team or organisation has less employee turnover as employees are more engaged (Cox, 1991 and Krell 2004).

Gallup found that the single most impacting factor for organisational engagement is a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Other worthy advantages

An organisation promoting diverse recruitment and retention policies by reducing bias will benefit from the ability to recruit from wider pool of talents. It will remove the bias that prevents from interviewing and considering candidates that make up more than half of the world’s population. In the UK, 57% of higher education population is female (63% of undergraduates) which represents the nation’s future leaders. Inclusion also means to not obstruct the entry to your company to many educated people.

Why is a gender balanced workforce linked to CSR?

Corporate social responsibility is a framework defined by Sheehy as “international private business self-regulation”. The concept has existed since the 1960s with the emergence of a movement imagining corporations having similar rights and duties to provide society with good as citizens do (Masoud, 2017).

It is closely linked to the triple bottom line businesses are held accountable and responsible for the planet, their financial commitments and respecting people and their rights. The power of activists and the regulations imply that CSR is “an inescapable priority for business leaders in every country” according to (Porter and Kramer, 2006).

Women are linked to the execution of CSR by encouraging the company to take care of its social, economic and environmental impact and they are attracted by an above-average CSR profile in a company as showed a UC Berkeley survey. They also show that female MBA students place “working for a company with a strong reputation for CSR” as being within their top three job selection criteria, while male counterparts do not. If you want to bring more women in your organisation it seems clear that it is one of the steps to take.

An example of women putting this social impact requirement as a requirement for their career and preferring the fields where it is possible to have a positive impact is the strong female presence in sustainable investing, significantly higher than their representation in the traditional investment sector.

Women tend to have been brought up in a more nurturing role than men, thus once adults they are still mindful of the world’s future and not taking advantage of an activity that could harm others. They are essentially more conscious of doing something that could hurt others by taking part in polluting activities or taking advantage of vulnerable populations. If work doesn’t provide women with the ability to make a change they may do it outside work. They are more likely to do volunteering activities on top of their usual duties and they will also take part in what is called invisible work or mental load.

So if Corporate Social Responsibility is a way to be accepted by the local and wider community, attract more women and diversity into an organisation in fine bringing wealth and sharper innovation, how do we sign up?!

How does an organisation advances corporate social responsibility plans?

In short, listen to your employees or stakeholders, what they ask for then act on it! It will be the best way to satisfy them. Put objectives in, give accountability to middle managers to implement them and measure the outcome. Look at where your industry is at and where your company needs to overachieve or at least do the same compare to them. Where could is the environment’s future compromised and where human rights need to be monitored.

Employees often ask for time to bound with their teams, to create deeper links than the ones developed at work. This can easily be paired with a local volunteering opportunity – a lot more inclusive than drinking if you ask me. They may build additional skills, they may not, it’s not what really matters at this point. I remember a friend telling me one of this week’s morning will be spent helping out a local charity. His company is one of the big employers where he lives therefore their image has a big impact on their ability to continue doing business. They can easily provide a better or worse environment for the local community above their responsibility towards their shareholders.

There are cross opportunities between stakeholder and shareholders satisfaction as shown below from a Boston Consulting Group.

Total Shareholder Return and Total Societal Impact

Long term, the societal impact will influence the longevity of the organisation, therefore it’s economic bottom line and the investor’s return on investment.

After exposing this reasoning you may think that diversity and inclusion is your business’s or every business priority and on the roadmap to improved corporate social responsibility achievements. Most employees believe not enough is being done, only 14% of respondents to a Glassdoor survey trusted their company is doing enough to promote diversity in the workplace – and some people are oblivious to the problem.

A way to improve and be part of the change is being transparent and sharing the objectives with all employees. Empowering all layers of the company to be part of the change will help companies reach the diversity and inclusion objectives. Diversity is also linked to other factors in the company such as the CSR initiatives, the engagement around it and their communication. By targeting more women, you will trigger a virtuous circle where this group is more likely to engage around diversity, inclusion and related initiatives. By getting the ball rolling, you ensure your business earns its “corporate citizenship” in the local and global community. This strategy will also improve diverse employees’ retention by avoiding the “only minority” experience for instance being the only woman in the room, the only Asian person… This experience has been described by many as affecting their confidence and mentally straining, a step in the right direction that can end in drop outs or the employee leaving.

Because you “cannot be what you can’t see”, as Marian Wright Edelman puts it, diverse groups need mentorship to climb the social ladder and examples of success they can relate to and aspire to be and CSR practices will help.


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