The relative capabilities of women and men to carry out certain activities have been discussed since Adam and Eve (or even earlier!). With the reduction of institutional, cultural and psychological barriers, it has been demonstrated that while women have traits that make them more susceptible to some tasks, differences have been narrowing. At a conference in January 2005, the then President of Harvard, Larry Summers, expressed doubts about the ability of women for science, suggesting that the shortage of female teachers and researchers could be justified by the lack of talent. It created a huge controversy, forcing him to resign. Critics thought the problem was not gender but the artificial barriers of society, rather than in-born ones, and that was what needed to change.
Although only anecdotal, it is worth mentioning the recent debate raised in Spain by the use of language. Some argue that the language itself, biased in favor of men, has led to discrimination against women and propose to change words and uses making them more inclusive. Proponents of traditional language argue that language is not to blame for the problem, which it has always been understood in context, that "man" means "human being"; "President" has no gender, and inclusive language may be cumbersome ("Welcome All, Women and Men"). It is likely that both points of views have some truth in them, but the most important thing is to remove all obstacles to full participation of all people. Language is not the cause, it reflects society.
It has been suggested that the existence of intrinsic qualities of each sex, in general, make us different and complementary in the way we feel, perceive and communicate. Men are from Mars and women from Venus, John Gray said in a caricature not without some truth. However, business has so far reneged what unites us, seeing our differences as an insurmountable barrier instead of a means of enrichment and cooperation.
As human beings, women and men, have difficulty accepting differences and the person that is different from us; we accept them and close our eyes to other realities that should be a stimulus. This flaw in our education and cognitive capabilities limits both sexes equally in business. Some women, because due to the difficulties, often content themselves to a position that should not be theirs and others, because they build in slowly but surely, structural barriers that limit the actions of mothers, wives, sisters and hence condition our daughters.
Talking about women and CSR means:
To increase femininity value applied to the social, cognitive and emotional impact on interpersonal relationships, and management of the company, And, on the other hand, take into account the structural elements of the role of women in society to be breaking down gender barriers
Many of the comments that follow are the result of causal observations and not of scientific research, which would go beyond our purpose in this short note. Still, we have sought evidence of serious studies to call attention to the subject. A recent publication, Mujer y RSE, relatively little known [i], presented an analysis of the subject and we recommend it. Unfortunately, there is no male author. There are still cultural barriers in both directions.
But what is this feminine side? It is generally accepted that women tend to harbor feelings of understanding, compassion, introspection; they are more able to tolerate ambiguity, usually have a longer term vision, more patience, and more perseverance. They are more likely to care for, educate, nurture, cultivate with a long-term. By contrast, men tend to (or pretend to) be more rational, less emotional, seeking satisfaction in the short term, preferringcertainty. This does not mean that there are no collaborative and intuitive men, or unemotional and competitive women. But these are “general” traits.
These different features seem to make women ideal for handling issues of corporate responsibility, which requires consideration of an environment that extends beyond the company and a period of time that exceeds the accounting periods, an environment in which costs can be tangible and in the short-term and benefits intangible and in the long term. CSR requires understanding, compassion, patience. But the profit in a competitive world requires rationality, ambition, a fighting and competitive spirit, achieving short-term objectives. As Tania Ellis well expressed in her post in The Guardian "The combination of economic value and social value requires the combination of "feminine" and "male" values, with, among other things, competitive spirit, rational linear thinking on one side, and cooperation, holistic and intuitive thinking on the other "[ii].
This idiosyncrasy is manifested in different management and business insight. A recent study by the Harvard Business School on philanthropy and organizational structure revealed that the more women in senior positions, the greater the company's participation in philanthropic activities [iii]. This should not be interpreted as meaning that resources are devoted to philanthropy instead of the other activities of corporate responsibility, but happens presumably because women induce an increased sensitivity of business to social issues.
But it is not enough to have one woman on the Board of Directors, symbolically, to defend it against charges of discrimination. In a study on the necessary critical mass of women on the boards of 320 companies in Norway (where there really are women in the Boards) found that its impact is beginning to be felt after the third female member [iv]. Similarly, several studies show [v] that companies with better gender parity have a larger operating profit than those dominated by men. While these reports do not prove a causal link between financial performance and the percentage of women, they are pointing in the direction of a business case for increased participation of women in governing bodies and management within the company.
And although we have only circumstantial information, based on attendance at dozens of conferences and events on CSR, the conclusion is that most participants are women, but unfortunately most of the speakers are still men. The same applies to academic courses. And most female participants tend to be younger than men, which bodes well for the next generation of speakers. It is obvious the interest these issues have aroused among youth, but especially among women.
This phenomenon is also seen in many companies, where the majority of employees in the departments or units managing CSR issues are women, but the directors of these units and their leaders, including the boards of directors are men. Why is this? One hypothesis is that each of these positions requires certain personal characteristics and that women adapt more to “soft” disciplines, as suggested by Larry Summers. An alternative hypothesis is that discrimination continues, the talents of women consistent with the social responsibility of business are appreciated, but they are not entrusted with the responsibility of making and implementing decisions. Once a woman told us that these positions were ideal for "managers‘ nieces", which would confirm the hypothesis of discrimination.
There may be some truth in both versions. Needless to say, both sexes are required for efficient and effective management of the company and are complementary. But corporate responsibility could be significantly improved and achieve the necessary balance, if there were more women in positions of influence, making strategic decisions and not only in administrative and tactical decisions. The joint authorship of this article between a man and a woman aims to be an example of this collaboration.
But how to close the gap? How to reconcile the two sexes in the company? Do we have we to resort to the feminization of the male? Or to the masculinization of the female? Structural barriers are powerful but we do not believe that neither of the above options work; in the homogenization we don’t gain but lose the ying and yang of the sexes.
We could also appeal to the participation quotas, or other forms of affirmative action and recognize their achievements. But we could go further. It is critical to incorporate women in the Boards of Directors, in positions of leadership and management, promoting tele-commuting and flexible working hours, creating innovation programs where women can develop their own initiatives and their talent, and career plans where motherhood or family obligations will not be a burden. Governments also have to play their role not only with legislation to promote equality but emphasizing the role of sustainable public procurement in promoting gender equity.
And from a purely relational point of view, how can we get that cooperation beyond competition? How can we get that interpersonal communication which overcomes the inertia and prejudices?
Psychology speaks of the virtuous circle of trust (or cooperation in this case). This is a diagram showing the three drivers of human behavior: doing, thinking and feeling. Each driver affects the other one: what you do modifies your thinking; what you think, gradually changes your feelings, which in turn predisposes you to do things differently than you used to do. For both sexes to change their behavior and their mutual prejudices, in order to break barriers and move closer, we have to change the operation of one of the three drivers. If we both want to learn from our differences, men will have to appeal to their emotions; women, will have to turn to action. And in any case, making explicit these prejudices and the subconscious communication barriers that sometimes go unnoticed but which ruin most of human relationships.
Why not start working together? Why not give more responsibility to women?
As feminist Jane Fonda says "The XXI century is the time in which women must make their voices heard and men their hearts."