At work, do women care more than men about sustainability?

Talent Show

At work, do women care more than men about sustainability?

Individuals are increasingly seeking jobs where they can be an agent for positive change. This was the main finding of Net Impact’s "Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012," which I previously covered in "Talent Show" on how a strong CSR program can attract and retain talent. Behind the report was rich data provided by 1,726 respondents.

Liz Maw, the CEO of Net Impact, and I thought it would be interesting to slice the data from a gender perspective. Our key question was, “Who wants to be a catalyst for change more, men or women?” Maw was generous to share the gender cut exclusively with me.

"Organizations that seek to attract and retain women should take notice,” explains Maw. "'What Workers Want' clearly shows that women care deeply about having a job that makes an impact on social and environmental causes. We believe that if more employers focus on creating meaningful opportunities for employees to make a difference in the workplace — especially when it comes to traditional corporate jobs — we’ll see more women with leadership roles in corporate America, a change that is sorely needed."

So how do corporations go about making this change? First, they need to look at the facts and understand that for women, impact is not some fleeting trend. Rather, it is incorporated into the very fabric of their everyday lives at home and on the job.

Concern on and off the clock

A major finding of the gender cut shows that women are more likely to have impact priorities inside and outside the workplace. Women, by a margin of 10 percentage points, are more concerned than men about having the opportunity to make an impact on causes that are important to them. Women say they plan to be more engaged in impact activities during and after work than men, such as volunteering during or after work or donating money. In fact, 72 percent of females are confident they will make an impact, versus 56 percent of males, with 42 percent being sure it will happen sometime soon.

The gender cut indicates that women tend to follow that old standby of “actions speak louder than words.” For instance, 4 percent more men than women are likely to say they provided input on sustainability and corporate responsibility issues at work, while women said they took more active steps in the past 12 months. This played out in a few ways, one being that 19 percent of men compared with 28 percent of women surveyed said they have contributed to a Green Team or other environmental effort.

A similar disparity existed in men’s and women’s volunteering habits, with 29 percent of men and 38 percent of women having volunteered with their company or co-workers. The same goes for women (43 percent) being more apt to have worked directly on a product or service that has a positive social or environmental impact than men (35 percent).

For women, having a positive impact on society is more important in their job criteria and also a more important reason to stay in their job than it is for men. Women are even more willing than men to accept a lower salary than they deserve — 15 percent less pay was the example given to participants — for a job they feel might give them an opportunity to make an impact, as well as for a job that would give them more of a work-life balance. While the difference here was only 2 to 6 percent, what is important to note is how this phenomenon runs across every category where more women said they would be willing to work for less, including having the chance to work for an organization whose values are similar to their own, having a job that seeks to make a social or environmental difference in the world, and having a job in a company committed to corporate and environmental responsibility.

On the flip side, men said they were more likely to take a lower salary to work for an “innovative” company or to have a job with more responsibility.

Kellie McElhaney, John C. Whitehead faculty fellow in corporate responsibility at Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, and author of “Women Create a Sustainable Future,” teaches and consults on women and leadership as a means of job retention. According to McElhaney, “Research also shows 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 students do not (HP, Simmons study). And CSR is not just useful as a hook to attract and retain women as employees. The research demonstrates that when companies are led by and advised (as in board members) by women, the firms are not only likely to be more financially successful, but more socially and environmentally focused and successful as well.” Bottom line? Companies should try to retain more women by providing more impact opportunities.

Feeling the weight of the world

So why are women more concerned with finding a work and personal life that involves having an impact? The data indicates that a higher percentage of women (69 percent) than men (52 percent) say they feel personally responsible for getting involved in order to improve society. That is a heavy weight to take on, but makes sense when you look at the report’s finding that females value the trait of empathy by a difference of 15 percent, and other philanthropic qualities like generosity, altruism and passion more than males.

When participants were asked what motivates them to work for a socially responsible company, women revealed being most driven by values. Fifty-three percent of men versus 61 percent of women say they would work for a socially responsible company because it aligns with their personal values.

Men are more driven toward impact work by belief in the CSR business case. More men (38 percent) than women (28 percent) say companies that have a socially responsible purpose at their core are more likely to be successful in the long run. This might connect to the survey data that finds men value the character trait of entrepreneurialism over the more altruistic characteristics that women claim as priorities.

Regardless of the varying motivations, behaviors and traits among today’s workforce to work for impact, the bottom line is that the desire is there. Making a difference has officially become a category that can allow one company to stand out over another when trying to entice contemporary job seekers.

Photocollage by GreenBiz Group

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