Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gender Bias in CSR - Where Are All the Men?

Over the last several weeks our company has engaged in a series of social media notices leading up to a webinar on FAQs regarding our leadership development experience in Guatemala. Of those who showed an interest and signed up for the webinar - entirely 100% were women. Now, our numbers would certainly show a limiting and therefore non-valid sample size. But there is a reality that of the people that we have engaged with over the last several months the disproportionate majority are women. Leading me to ask….Where have all the men gone? – and, given the equally disproportionate number of men in the C-Suite –is the gender difference an issue to be reconciled in order to have corporate social responsibility move to the strategic front burner?

Aman Singh at Vault CSR did a nice job of summarizing the Boston College Centre for Corporate Citizenship report on the Profile of the Profession – In her blog Aman pointed out the ten leading characteristics/identifiers of a CSR professional – but for the purpose of this discussion let’s stick to the top four –

1. They hold a bachelors degree
2. They are a women
3. They are white
4. They are more than 35 years old.

I can safely say that these descriptors definitely correspond to those who showed an interest in our work. So of course we need to understand the Why?

A quick search discovered an intriguing diploma thesis argument by Elena Bueble that addresses CSR from a communications and consumer alignment perspective. She illustrates that the connectedness that consumers feel with a company’s CSR activities (and therefore contributing to their purchasing behavior) has a lot to do with the alignment of ethics between the individual and the company. She then cites references that illustrate that women are more ethically sensitive than men and in a philanthropic arena are more likely to donate money and their own time via volunteerism than men.

The Guatemala experience focuses on development of insight related to leadership skills, intense application of those insights and skills and in social enterprise in a small village and then with accredited coaching support, taking away those lessons and applying them to various components such as career, community and family over a period of several months.
This combination of learning, leadership development and “hands-on” CSR – would of course appeal to those with a strong ethical base, and those who are curious about the world and their place in it. But I do not believe that this is the sole (or soul) domain of women. Gender differences are rarely black and white, so I do imagine that CSR, leadership and learning are of interest to many men too – yet there is clearly a difference in how this is pursued by men.
So…some questions.

1. Is social and environmental good still seen as a “soft” benefit versus that resides outside the traditional profit and loss statement that is “hard” evidence of success pursued by men?

2. Is CSR seen as a skill of nurturance – that can be performed by men, but more comfortably by women?

3. Our program focuses on leadership development alongside CSR – would more men consider leadership innate whereas women would place value on the introspection, and analysis required to be more effective?

4. These questions lead to a black and white orientation that is overly simplistic to say the least and only supports the maintenance of stereotypes. However, they do play at the corners of a more troubling scenario. If one assumes that promoting a CSR/leadership agenda is a good thing, then it should be of equal importance to both men and women. Women are the typical CSR practitioner but are underrepresented at the most senior levels – aside from trying to achieve parity in this regard; does it also make sense for us to rethink the communications context to engage men at a senior level in this dialogue. Or…..

5. Is this all nonsense and can concerns be safely dismissed simply by what we see in the relatively egalitarian social media world, i.e. witness the work and ideas of Fabian Pattberg, Elaine Cohen, Aman Singh, David Connor, Chris Jarvis, Christine Arena, Julie Urlaub, Jeffrey Hollender, or Lavinia Weissman and many others.

What do you think? Do you have answers or opinions on the above questions? Is this all a red herring? Let us know your thoughts.

The Acacia Group’s mission is to offer transformative and unique leadership development for organizations and individuals seeking to live out their global citizenship. To do this we blend knowledge from Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Development and Leadership Development and Learning to emerge new opportunities for excellence for our clients.


  1. CSR may naturally attract more women because they tend to be more comfortable/more practiced with empathy (and perhaps more allowed to express it). Before it's too late, we should educate and develop integrated CSR leadership programs (not alongside), so CSR doesn't start to be seen, culturally, as some sort of "women's job." That could be the kiss of death if the idea is to pursue social responsibility in sustainable way. What makes for leadership in CSR CAN be taught. No gender about it.

  2. Totally agree with Andrea: What makes for leadership in CSR can be taught. Although there just aren't enough examples to tout in support of that sentiment except for Jeffrey Hollender and Jeff Swartz.

    Does it have anything to do with their gender? Maybe not. But is their command and following in the CSR world related to their gender? How many female speakers and keynotes do you see at the plethora of CSR conferences and panels being held all the time these days?

    What about PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi?

    Regardless, can we truly say ethics are distinctly a woman's prerogative without cringing?

    Would love to hear from more people. And thanks for the mention Dave!

  3. Thanks Andrea, it is unfortunate that a "women's job" is seen as a limiting descriptor, but as you describe it, that is the kiss of death as men would shift away from it. True systemic shifts across cultures should be gender neutral and capture the interests of all.

  4. Dave, the fact that so many women have joined the conversation related to CSR is absolutely no surprise. This also fits with the gender studies and reports on jobs. In the Fortune 2000, 7% of women are appointed to leadership positions and the CSR agenda as Aman reports it on her blog, has only recently got the attention of the Director and Leadership level.

    Indra Nooyi is a minority in large cap investment circles and she found the ground to become aggressive with her agenda at last years World Economic Forum.

    Most of the jobs in the Fortune 2000 are in middle management where women work. When women cannot work any longer they leave the Fortune 2000 to found or work the mid cap and small cap business structure or social enterprise where there is a growth in jobs. This growth I believe relates to the fact that enterprise is a pay for performance environment or organized based on the rules of self-employment.

    CSR is an intersection of numerous sectors where we are striving to learn how employment and livelihood can be based on sustainable economic and investment models that give people (men and women) the opportunity to earn liveable wages and develop a portfolio of investments that can serve them for times of retirement, career transition, professional development and extraordinary times of demand to heal a illness or learn to sustain with chronic illness. This is an emerging model I describe as WorkEcology and write about in this context http://www.workecology.com.

    Women are also health consciouos and the societal demands at this time have not developed a system and infrastructure that surrounds work that supports well being beyond how we now calculate the GDP. This is the basis for my new project, WeCare Global Health where I am convening an inquiry and institute modeled after the UN Global Compact and Global Reporting Initiative where we can redefine all aspects of health to be served by how we sustain ourselves, the environment and build an economic proposition for health that currently does not exist.

    Thank you for highlighting me as someone to read. I am very grateful every day to be included in this group of composers and creative artists that are creating a new format for culture and change based on the values we all stand behind in our work and with our voice.

  5. Andrea and Aman, I thought about what you both wrote and I wonder what you both think if women chose education tracks and internships more aligned with CSR?

    The number of women seeking science related careers is still low while growing, e.g. engineering, technology and biopharm because those jobs and the job environments are not culturally based on encouragement and structured to support challenging on the job learning. So men may track themselves for green careers that are more scientific? Maybe more women select communication, HR and leadership?

    Curious to know what you think and welcome input from others.

  6. If more men were doing CSR, would we even be having this conversation?

    I think not. Fact is, more women are in the workforce now. Shift is happening. Leadership is changing and it will continue. Why not simply embrace the rise of consciousness in general. We should be bringing everyone along for the ride. It's an important one.

  7. Really interesting article, though I have to say it's a little surprising to me. As a man working in CSR I certainly haven't noticed an imbalance where gender is concerned; if anything, having studied ethics at uni in a year that was exactly half and half, the only imbalance that I have seen has been one of age, not gender. Having said that, the age imbalance is one that might be better attributed to a generally ageing workforce and isn't in my experience limited to CSR.

    I don't think that ethics is solely the realm of women, but I do think that there is a substantial difference in the way women and men 'do' ethics.
    My understanding is that women generally have an ethic of 'care' and men generally work from an ethic of 'justice'. In CSR there is room for both, but it makes sense that CSR would be more likely to attract people working from an ethic of care.

  8. Many thanks for the great comments, and I hope we have more.

    This issue has clearly sparked a great deal of interest and I am struck by 1. The absence of clear answers 2. The commonality of the responses around leadership.

    Like all of you I think that leadership can be taught and that the lens for learning can actually be CSR. On Twitter it was suggested that the answer to the question "Where are the Men?" Could be, "...out creating the next economic crisis". Stereotypes would have us believe that men are more goal focused and that women can work better with process and systems of interchange. If one holds that as a truth - then perhaps the challenge is to focus learning on merging the two styles in a complementary fashion - supporting more women in the C-suite and men using CSR and sustainability thinking to achieve community and corporate goals.

    Andrea Learned has just written a great post that takes this a step deeper. She quotes John Marshall Roberts.."Women displayed a significantly higher level of systemic thinking in relation to leadership and communication preferences (70th percentile nationally for women, vs. 56th percentile for men). Women were also more likely to be socially optimistic and to filter data based upon authenticity than men"

    You can read the entire post at http://t.co/6AycpYq -

    If this is the case, then do we have two issues to acknowledge. One is that men and women process information and think differently AND, we still have to overcome a bias that is associated with this thinking that creates a glass ceiling?

    Love to hear more.

  9. I believe that women have the most to lose, and gain, in the future of sustainability efforts.

    Ensuring that the needs of the next generation are protected fits into the traditional role of women in most societies as the primary caretakers. If we continue to exploit natural and human resources at an unsustainable rate, it will disproporationally be the mothers of the world who will feel the heartbreak of knowing - and telling - their children will not live as well as they themselves have.

    They also have the most to gain from a continuation of capitalism into the 21st century and beyond because the individual accumulation of wealth has historically had a direct correlation to personal independence and therefore freedom. Whenever a group is allowed to enter the work force and provide for themselves, empowerment - the ability to no longer be beholden to a society or structure (or even a family) because of a lack of independent means is removed.

  10. Andrea's remark is key to why women are not working effectively on the scientific side and much more.

    I to am enjoying the comments and will check in here on a regular basis.

  11. Great article Dave and thanks for the mention.

    I to a certain degree agree with Rhonda and also Ben. The whole responsible business practice sector is a good example that women are actually able to think ahead and are the sex to best understand that we need to change our ways ie. promoting responsible business practice.

    Having worked in the 'normal' pure profit seeking mens corporate world I must say that gender plays an enormously important role in non CSR work in my opinion. Male territorial behaviour is the key to success.

    And this makes one of the differences I love about the CSR world; it is different and the male culture is not so strong. the cause is at the haert of the movement and this is where it needs to stay as well in the future.

    Maybe more men will get this as well as time moves on and more men will realize that the territorial behavior is not getting them to far anymore............. ;-)


  12. Fabian, I think more men get it. From a system point of view, Core Groups of Decision makers define how people are rewarded and what they are rewarded for. So that is a major driver in how people work and factor CSR.

    Right now in the US, companies are holding in reserves $1.8 trillion dollars that is being saved for a rainy day. Imagine if ever 25% of those monies went to creating new jobs, which are badly needed in the US and a nice portion of that money was set up into bonus systems that reward people for leading and mentoring work practices with regard for the triple bottom line and setting up teams to build the projects that are captured with integrated reporting methodology.

    When Art Kleiner and I first brainstormed my curriculum that I developed outlined at http://www.workecology.com; we viewed this an opportunity to work systemically with organizations to reshape the conversations of decision makers with regard for the innovations the wider social network wants within an organization and outside. We now call this stakeholder engagement.

    I think the work ahead now is prepare leaders to lead and mentor sustainability in companies and organizations to reflect this. This would result in a changes to compensation for people across the board that could also change compensation schemes to be less hierachical and more about results and outcomes.

    I have met with enormous resistance in companies to foster that conversation with leaders. HR usually does not have the mandate to foster this discussion.

    Most of my coaching clients who practice sustainability are under paid and find it difficult to move into a leadership role and be recognized by core group decision makers. Yet most of my clients have a peer and public respect and fan clubs that are global.

    This is a dilemma and I am interested to find clients and people I coach who will work with me to foster this kind of change in compensation linked to performance.

    The world of work is also changing. We are in a global recession and new jobs are hard to find. I find it interest that many consultants in this space have healthy practices as consultants and many of them I respect have the talent to be directors or board members. So maybe its time for some consultants to go internal (men and women).

    In the meantime, I am so blessed with a gender balance in my professional life, I feel spoiled. I actually have more men at the present time supporting my project on health than women. I do hope to keep it balanced over time and have begun working some ideas to follow through on my value for building a community balanced in participation between men and women.

    Dave, thanks for sparking such a wonderful conversation here.

    John Friedman, we need more of what you see and think about in these kind of discussions.