Companies and society win when business leaders are gender-inclusive. Researchers from Harvard Business School examined how corporate leadership and organizational structure influence CSR by utilizing the most visible form: corporate philanthropy.
Focusing specifically on how women leaders might impact CSR, researchers from Harvard Business School and Catalyst conducted follow-up analysis. Compared to companies without women executive leaders, they found that companies with gender-inclusive leadership teams contributed, on average, more charitable funds.
Gender-inclusive companies and philanthropy
It’s not only a matter of companies with more women leaders being larger and having more money to donate or of companies with more women being clustered in industries with higher levels of charitable giving. After controlling for key factors that might influence the amount of donations, including financial performance, company size, and industry, the presence of women leaders in Fortune 500 companies still has a significant, positive effect: more women leaders is correlated with higher levels of philanthropy.
Going beyond correlation—proving that gender-inclusive leadership actually causes companies to be more socially responsible—can be difficult given all the factors at play. Additional evidence does, however, point to gender-inclusive leadership positively impacting CSR.
While it is plausible that companies committed to CSR could attract more diverse leaders, it is likely the connection works in reverse. Research examining the impact of gender-inclusive leadership, when taking time into account, suggests gender diverse leaders are employed before increases in CSR are observed.
Quality of CSR initiatives
Having gender-inclusive leadership can influence the level or quantity of philanthropic investment corporations make in CSR. But we also speculate that by keeping gender issues prominent, gender-inclusive leadership likely also affects the quality of CSR initiatives. When leaders spotlight gender issues in their CSR strategies, they often position their organization for sustained growth, and the payoff extends beyond the company to society.
Focusing on the roles women play in the marketplace is one way companies can create success through CSR initiatives. For example, Campbell Soup Company’s supplier diversity program aims to develop a supply base that reflects its consumer base, giving companies owned by women an equal opportunity to sell services and products to the company.
Gender-inclusive leadership is good for business and society. Findings demonstrate that corporate stakeholders understand the value of gender-inclusive leadership and its positive influence on the quantity of a company’s CSR activities. Companies with both women and men leaders in the boardroom and at the executive table are poised to achieve sustainable big wins for the company and for society.