Categories
Transformative Ideas

A Better Way to Be Better

Moving beyond either/or. Sarah Kaplan, Author, The 360° Corporation: From Stakeholder Trade-offs to Transformation

Businesses operating within the framework of 21st century capitalism can and must be a force for good, says Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) and professor of strategic management at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

“Big companies are the ones who have either created or perpetuated many of the pressing social and environmental issues we face today,” she says. “If we are to see significant change, we need them on board.”

Yet, despite more than a decade of amped up efforts on corporate social responsibility (CSR), the impact has been negligible. And evidence shows Canadian public and large corporations, in particular, are lagging behind those in other countries in the CSR area.

In her new book,The 360° Corporation, Kaplan says it’s because they have been going about it the wrong way. We spoke to Kaplan, to find out what they missed.


LiisBeth: You’re best known for your work on innovation and how gender impacts the economy. Why a book on corporate social responsibility?

Sarah Kaplan: This is a project I’ve been working on since before I founded the Institute for Gender and the Economy. The timing happens to be pretty good. A few weeks ago, the Business Roundtable (an association of CEOs from leading US companies) announced that they were going to prioritize creating value for all stakeholders versus just focusing on shareholder returns. Women, gender minorities, LGBTQ+ are increasingly viewed as important stakeholder categories that many corporations are paying attention to.

What is the book about?

(Getting) business leaders to think about social and environmental challenges as central to their business as opposed to it being seen as an add on, something they do off to one side of their desk. It’s time to get past the “CSR candy sprinkled on top.”

And how do we do that?

Think differently about what to do when investor and stakeholder interests don’t easily align. Often when faced with this situation, decision makers default to constructing a business case to figure out a win-win solution to break trade-offs. You get this. I get that. We all get something. Not what we wanted. But it’s as good as it gets.

This can work, but what happens when investors and stakeholders find themselves not just miles, but worlds apart?

In those cases, win-win just isn’t possible. At least not right away. Even attempts to innovate with known variables may not lead to the breakthrough required.

In this case, I encourage companies to hold and value this seemingly intractable tension as a one-of-a-kind transformation opportunity. The idea is to get decision makers to start thinking about the challenge as they would a research and development opportunity. They need to ask what kind of productive experiments could be designed, in concert with stakeholders, over time, to develop something that could not have even been previously imagined. I am asking companies to think of social responsibility and social innovation like any other disruptive R&D project—one that requires long-term uncertain investments with unsure but potentially magnificent payoffs.

That sounds great for companies with deep pockets. What about startups? Smaller enterprises?

A great example of a small company that has successfully integrated social change is McCarthy Uniforms. They figured out how to leverage a social issue—gender equality—as a business transformation opportunity, in fact, as their turnaround strategy.

McCarthy sells uniforms and, like other companies in that space, only sold uniforms that fit a man’s body. By paying attention to a growing conversation around gender equity, they noticed that lots of women wear uniforms. Due to lack of options, women were being forced to wear men’s uniforms that did not fit well. Not only was it uncomfortable, this also often created safety issues. So, they added “female fit” lines of products. And they started creating a social responsibility report, which included gender equity information. They applied this knowledge when they were bidding with school districts and other people needing uniforms. They’re winning their bids because they are including that kind of information.

Embracing stakeholders and seeing them as essential to your day-to-day business and engaging with stakeholders can actually help you find sources of differentiation and benefits that you hadn’t even anticipated.

What role do activists play in motivating companies to take social and environmental issues seriously?

Well, there’s a couple of ways that activists are really, really important to this equation. The first is they can increase the pain for corporations. When Greenpeace started blocking the ships that were carrying drilling equipment up to the Arctic, the visibility really increased public relations and logistics costs. When Shell abandoned their Arctic drilling activities, they said, “Well, it didn’t have anything to do with the activism. It had to do with the cost benefit. But, of course the activism was shaping the cost benefit.

I have talked to sustainability people in various companies who say, “Don’t tell my boss this, but I actually appreciate the activists because they help me make my case inside the company.” Activism can play that role.

The second role that activists can play is to work to get on the inside, and take a seat at the table in those decision-making meetings. Take ACT UP, which I talk about in my book. Their protests got them a seat at the table where researchers were deciding on drug testing protocols for AIDS drug testing. The activists come with a different point of view, different experience, different knowledge.  In this case, activists were able to help the re searchers understand the most effective ways to do the trials and get the trials to be fair, more just, more accessible.

That said, there is a big tension between being in the conversation and being seen as selling out. It’s a very difficult tension to manage. I think it mirrors the same tension that the corporates have when they’re actually paying attention to the stakeholders (“But you’re hurting the bottom line.”) I think the activists should more often see themselves as potential players at the table in this conversation. And in turn, corporations need to be open to, and invite in challenging, uncomfortable and diverse points of view.

What was your biggest “aha”?

I came across some really interesting research that suggests that people who rely on the business case are precisely the people least likely to act when a business case is made to them, because in order to act on these things, there has to be a certain level of moral outrage.

The business case actually mitigates against moral outrage.

What the business case does is justify the existing status quo. It leads to complacency as opposed to outrage. We need business leaders to think about how we can change the status quo versus perpetuate it. The point is not to make the business case. The point is to find new ways to do this work. If you start with the business case, you’re only going to get incremental solutions. That was the biggest aha for me. The business case is getting in the way of action—not to mention innovation and transformation.

What’s happening with the Institute for Gender and the Economy this year?

When it comes to working to achieve positive social change for gender equality, the biggest barrier is that people don’t know what to do and how to do it. So, to help people figure out the “how,” we are launching a series of case studies that are specific examples of what companies have done, which offer new models and templates. The second thing we’re doing is developing a Gender Analytics training program. We will be running prototypes early in the new year and hope to have the program available in the fall of 2020.

Sarah, thank you for all your amazing work to advance gender equity not only in Canada but globally.

Thanks so much for the interview!


Liisbeth runs on reader support–not advertising.  If you enjoyed this article, consider becoming a subscriber! [direct-stripe value=”ds1554685140411″]


Don’t miss this

You can catch Sarah Kaplan speaking about her new book on Thursday, September 26, 5:00 to 7:00 PM at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. Register for the event here.


Additional reading

To find out how Canadian CEOs compare to their US counterparts when it comes to enacting corporate social responsibility, read Kaplan’s op-ed in The Globe and Mail, published on September 16.

Plus, go back and read our 2016 conversation with Sarah Kaplan:

https://www.liisbeth.com/2016/09/12/conversation-gender-capitalism-expert-sarah-kaplan/

 

Categories
Our Voices

A Salon Of Our Own: And Here’s What Happened

couch-at-abby-small

LiisBeth, the shit-kicking feminist entrepreneurship zine you’re reading right now, held its first-ever consciousness raising–style salon a few weeks back. It felt like the heady old days of feminism. It felt like the thrilling future of feminism.

The evening gathering took place in the living room of LiisBeth board advisor Abby Slater—businesswoman, impact investor, social-enterprise champion—and featured two leading feminist thinkers and changemakers: Andi Zeisler, author of the brilliant We Were Feminists Once, and Sarah Kaplan, gender capitalism expert and director of the brand new excellently named Institute for Gender + the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Oh, and let’s mention a third: Petra Kassun-Mutch, the instigator of the salon, founder of LiisBeth and spirit incarnate of the zine’s namesake, Stieg Larsson’s Stieg Larsson‘s Lisbeth Salander, a fictional, dragon-tattooed, streetwise avenger, champion of the underserved, unheard, and overlooked. Or in Petra’s world, women entrepreneurs.

Thirty-five members of the LiisBeth community congregated, including executives, writers, artists, activists, non-profit leaders, startup founders, and students. There were deep pockets, shallow pockets, pockets of colour, pockets of queerness, pockets of supermoms who have done it all, women at the start and end of careers, and every gradation in between.

It seemed absolutely right, the very randomness of ourselves gathered for a necessary conversation: assessing the state of feminism in this age of individualism.

Or as Zeisler might put it: How do we rescue feminism from the clutches of capitalist neoliberalism, which would divide our collective action for change and reduce feminism to a brand to sell us stuff?

Or as Kaplan might put it: Rather than stand on the sidelines of capitalism, how do we create true systemic change rather than being co-opted to fit in “nicey nice” with the status quo of inequality?

Kassun-Mutch was pressed with questions: Has feminism stalled out? With so much inequality still—we have not come nearly far enough, baby—how do we get back on track? Given that we have to swim in this system, how do we leverage the tools of business to change the system? While being sensitive to intersections of feminism—and the room was a sampling of that—how do we work together, support each other, be good allies rather than be divided by our differences?

How do we get back to collective action to change a system that so often diminishes women?

The conversation stirred up anger (as it should), plenty of laughter (as a gathering of women usually does), and a strong desire to connect between the generations and intersections and fault lines of business and non-profit. It also reinvigorated a passion and excitement for the hard work of making shit happen. Plenty of ideas flowed from the evening, which we’ll be following up in LiisBeth stories for months to come.

The next evening, LiisBeth gave us another peak into the future of feminism as the media sponsor for Zeisler’s talk at the Rotman School of Management, organized by Kaplan. Astonishingly, while Zeisler has spoken about feminism at campuses across North America, this was her first-ever invitation to speak at a business school. No doubt that has something to do with her attack on corporate capitalism for hijacking and neutering the feminist agenda, to render it into a pinked commodity.

The room was packed with young female MBA students whom Zeisler gave plenty to think about. I spoke to quite a few after the talk. Many identified as feminists, and now they were questioning what they were learning in business school. One wondered aloud, “Am I being trained to merely sell stuff to women? To exploit women, to increase profits, reduce costs, for my own advancement?”

Heading into the lecture, I introduced myself to an older executive who told me she works in finance. Given the subject of the talk, I asked what challenges she’s faced working in such a male-dominated industry. She shrugged, almost dumbfounded by my question. “You know, with sexism,” I nudged.

“None,” she said.

After the lecture, she rushed up to me, mouth agape at her apparent amnesia. “When I started my career, I was forced to share an office with a co-worker who was stalking me. I had a different approach to sales; I took time to get to know my clients rather than closing the deal on the first meeting. I was outselling my male colleagues and they couldn’t stand it. And even though I was making the company tons of money, the male executives kept pressuring me to change my sales strategy.”

And this is what she did: she left and started her own company. Things clearly went swimmingly ever since.

She admitted that she had completely forgotten that the harassment she endured was the very reason she went to work for herself.

The three MBA students I chatted with didn’t see any immediate exit strategy from the trenches. They truly worried about being co-opted by toiling in the muck of those trenches. Would they end up working for corporations that exploit women, systematically pay them less, and block opportunities?

And then their conversation drifted to asking themselves this question:

How could they work in the system while changing the system to make it more equitable?

Between them, they could check the boxes of a multitude of intersections: race, working class, immigrant, refugee, gender queer. Even though women now constitute 30 per cent of students at Rotman business school, they still feel like a maligned minority. They told me that just going to school requires enduring an onslaught of microaggressions: male students ignoring them in study groups and talking over them in class; male profs using gendered case studies (i.e. all men) and sexist language; male executive MBA students heading to strip clubs for bro-bonding after weekend classes. They don’t see that scenario changing once they start their careers, not with men still dominating business leadership and business values.

“Feminism shouldn’t be an optional lecture,” one tells me. “Feminism should be on every course curriculum in business school.”

That’s one solution. And they came to another, as they circled back to why they had chosen to do an MBA in the first place.

One had graduated from gender studies, sharpened her teeth on the critiques of capitalism, and went to work in social services and non-profits to create change. But the more she saw how corporations exploited women through their supply chains, the more she realized how hard it would be to create true change from the sidelines. “We need activism all throughout industries and in different positions in society. I wanted to become someone in business who could make change. We have to have women in business who are feminists and activists. Change won’t happen unless we have people on the inside who care about doing the right thing and can convince others to do the right thing.”

Personally, I came away from the two events chuffed by the future of feminism, and we’ll be tracking it right here in the digital pages of LiisBeth. Stay tuned for that—and for more hell-raising salons too.

 

Related Readings and Audio Interviews

Categories
Our Voices

A Salon Of Our Own: And Here's What Happened

couch-at-abby-small
LiisBeth, the shit-kicking feminist entrepreneurship zine you’re reading right now, held its first-ever consciousness raising–style salon a few weeks back. It felt like the heady old days of feminism. It felt like the thrilling future of feminism.
The evening gathering took place in the living room of LiisBeth board advisor Abby Slater—businesswoman, impact investor, social-enterprise champion—and featured two leading feminist thinkers and changemakers: Andi Zeisler, author of the brilliant We Were Feminists Once, and Sarah Kaplan, gender capitalism expert and director of the brand new excellently named Institute for Gender + the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
Oh, and let’s mention a third: Petra Kassun-Mutch, the instigator of the salon, founder of LiisBeth and spirit incarnate of the zine’s namesake, Stieg Larsson’s Stieg Larsson‘s Lisbeth Salander, a fictional, dragon-tattooed, streetwise avenger, champion of the underserved, unheard, and overlooked. Or in Petra’s world, women entrepreneurs.
Thirty-five members of the LiisBeth community congregated, including executives, writers, artists, activists, non-profit leaders, startup founders, and students. There were deep pockets, shallow pockets, pockets of colour, pockets of queerness, pockets of supermoms who have done it all, women at the start and end of careers, and every gradation in between.
It seemed absolutely right, the very randomness of ourselves gathered for a necessary conversation: assessing the state of feminism in this age of individualism.
Or as Zeisler might put it: How do we rescue feminism from the clutches of capitalist neoliberalism, which would divide our collective action for change and reduce feminism to a brand to sell us stuff?
Or as Kaplan might put it: Rather than stand on the sidelines of capitalism, how do we create true systemic change rather than being co-opted to fit in “nicey nice” with the status quo of inequality?
Kassun-Mutch was pressed with questions: Has feminism stalled out? With so much inequality still—we have not come nearly far enough, baby—how do we get back on track? Given that we have to swim in this system, how do we leverage the tools of business to change the system? While being sensitive to intersections of feminism—and the room was a sampling of that—how do we work together, support each other, be good allies rather than be divided by our differences?
How do we get back to collective action to change a system that so often diminishes women?
The conversation stirred up anger (as it should), plenty of laughter (as a gathering of women usually does), and a strong desire to connect between the generations and intersections and fault lines of business and non-profit. It also reinvigorated a passion and excitement for the hard work of making shit happen. Plenty of ideas flowed from the evening, which we’ll be following up in LiisBeth stories for months to come.
The next evening, LiisBeth gave us another peak into the future of feminism as the media sponsor for Zeisler’s talk at the Rotman School of Management, organized by Kaplan. Astonishingly, while Zeisler has spoken about feminism at campuses across North America, this was her first-ever invitation to speak at a business school. No doubt that has something to do with her attack on corporate capitalism for hijacking and neutering the feminist agenda, to render it into a pinked commodity.
The room was packed with young female MBA students whom Zeisler gave plenty to think about. I spoke to quite a few after the talk. Many identified as feminists, and now they were questioning what they were learning in business school. One wondered aloud, “Am I being trained to merely sell stuff to women? To exploit women, to increase profits, reduce costs, for my own advancement?”
Heading into the lecture, I introduced myself to an older executive who told me she works in finance. Given the subject of the talk, I asked what challenges she’s faced working in such a male-dominated industry. She shrugged, almost dumbfounded by my question. “You know, with sexism,” I nudged.
“None,” she said.
After the lecture, she rushed up to me, mouth agape at her apparent amnesia. “When I started my career, I was forced to share an office with a co-worker who was stalking me. I had a different approach to sales; I took time to get to know my clients rather than closing the deal on the first meeting. I was outselling my male colleagues and they couldn’t stand it. And even though I was making the company tons of money, the male executives kept pressuring me to change my sales strategy.”
And this is what she did: she left and started her own company. Things clearly went swimmingly ever since.
She admitted that she had completely forgotten that the harassment she endured was the very reason she went to work for herself.
The three MBA students I chatted with didn’t see any immediate exit strategy from the trenches. They truly worried about being co-opted by toiling in the muck of those trenches. Would they end up working for corporations that exploit women, systematically pay them less, and block opportunities?
And then their conversation drifted to asking themselves this question:
How could they work in the system while changing the system to make it more equitable?
Between them, they could check the boxes of a multitude of intersections: race, working class, immigrant, refugee, gender queer. Even though women now constitute 30 per cent of students at Rotman business school, they still feel like a maligned minority. They told me that just going to school requires enduring an onslaught of microaggressions: male students ignoring them in study groups and talking over them in class; male profs using gendered case studies (i.e. all men) and sexist language; male executive MBA students heading to strip clubs for bro-bonding after weekend classes. They don’t see that scenario changing once they start their careers, not with men still dominating business leadership and business values.
“Feminism shouldn’t be an optional lecture,” one tells me. “Feminism should be on every course curriculum in business school.”
That’s one solution. And they came to another, as they circled back to why they had chosen to do an MBA in the first place.
One had graduated from gender studies, sharpened her teeth on the critiques of capitalism, and went to work in social services and non-profits to create change. But the more she saw how corporations exploited women through their supply chains, the more she realized how hard it would be to create true change from the sidelines. “We need activism all throughout industries and in different positions in society. I wanted to become someone in business who could make change. We have to have women in business who are feminists and activists. Change won’t happen unless we have people on the inside who care about doing the right thing and can convince others to do the right thing.”
Personally, I came away from the two events chuffed by the future of feminism, and we’ll be tracking it right here in the digital pages of LiisBeth. Stay tuned for that—and for more hell-raising salons too.
 
Related Readings and Audio Interviews

Categories
Activism & Action Our Voices

A Conversation with Gender Capitalism Expert Sarah Kaplan

Sarah Kaplan, co-author of “The Rise of Gender Capitalism,” is the Director of the new Institute for Gender + the Economy at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. She spoke at LiisBeth’s first-ever salon (Sold out) along with We Were Feminists Once author Andi Zeisler. LiisBeth was the media sponsor for Zeisler’s talk at the Rotman School on Sept 21, 2016.

LiisBeth: How did you come to feminism?

Sarah Kaplan: I am a woman living in this world and you can’t step out the door without experiencing the ways in which white male privilege exists. I was always the person raising the issue and trying to make sure things were more egalitarian. At some point, I decided I had to start doing this as my primary work and that’s when I started focusing my research work at the university on the role that gender dynamics play in the economy.

LiisBeth: Can you point to a specific moment when you realized you needed to make it your central focus?

SK: There’s a moment every single day. Let’s start with Donald Trump saying that Clinton doesn’t look presidential. What does it mean to look presidential? Apparently, it means you can’t look like a woman. There are 500 of those things every day and it just accumulates and it just accumulated for me.

LiisBeth: Why is the Rotman Institute for Gender & the Economy necessary?

There is already a lot of research being done on this intersection between gender and economy in the business world and nonprofit organizations. But we have less rigorous academic research in the business school community. There’s a real need for business schools to bring the scholarly rigor to these questions, to explore not just the correlations, but also the causal relationships, the underlying mechanisms, and the ways that we can make progress. Because despite all of these reports saying that gender equality would be better for the economy, we can’t make much progress in practice, and the question is, why?

LiisBeth: What do you hope to achieve at the Institute?

SK: This is not just a research institute to focus on women’s leadership, although that is certainly an important issue. It is much more focused on gender dynamics. We are very interested in considering not just questions about women but the interactions between men and women and people of all different genders in our society and looking at those questions at the level of the economy and business as well the individual. A lot of the research that has happened in business schools so far has really been focused on that individual, pointing out that women need to negotiate differently than men and things like that. I’m not very interested in telling women how they can improve themselves to fit into the existing system. I’m much more interested in doing research into understanding how the system can be changed to accommodate a wider variety of people.

LiisBeth: Why do you think that gender equality is good for business or, to push it further, many studies show that female leadership is good for business, that female-led companies outperform others?

SK: We are in a situation where, somehow, it has become necessary to say, not just that it’s the right thing to do to give people equal opportunities, but you have to prove that having women in leadership is better than having men in leadership. We have somehow gotten to the point where we assume patriarchy and male dominance is the norm and that we have to measure everything against that. We don’t see firms being asked to justify why they have men in leadership. But we somehow have to justify why there should be women in leadership, we have to “make the business case.” While we have some evidence from consulting firms that there’s a correlation between women in leadership and firm performance, actually the scholarly research suggests that it may just be the same. It should be enough to say that men and women perform the same on average, so why should we be discriminating against women? One of the questions that I am tackling in my own research is our obsession with the business case. Some people will say we need the business case in order to get change. But we’ve got ourselves caught in a tricky situation – a “business case” means that the only way we get change is if women are better. Why should we have a different bar for performance for women than we do for men? I keep saying, look, even if women aren’t better, at a minimum, they are the same in their performance, and if that is the case, why should we systematically discriminate in our systems and procedures against women? I don’t understand this obsession with having to make the business case that women are superior.

LiisBeth: I’d like to go back to talking about why women are superior. Just kidding. Why not focus on diversity rather than gender?

SK: There’s scholarly research coming out that shows when organizations speak broadly about diversity they are actually less effective in achieving diversity goals, because it’s so broad, suddenly everything and everyone is diverse. Oh, I have a different undergrad degree than you, I’m diverse. I think we have an issue — women are 50 percent of the population and the fact that there are so few represented in organizational leadership and that there are so many barriers to achieving promotions or equal pay, there is a lot of value to just focus on that so that you can make targeted interventions. There are incredibly important intersections (we will be looking at). The dynamics that face a white straight woman are very different than the dynamics that are faced, say, by a black gay man. We should definitely be paying attention to all the different intersections and not assume this is a problem of discrimination faced by elite white women. What about working-class Latinas? What about working-class white women? What about African American men?

LiisBeth: Do you believe that paying attention to women will help us pay attention to other intersections of diversity?

SK: I want to talk less about women and more about gender and gender dynamics and that means paying attention to men as much as paying attention to women. One of the things I’ve become convinced of, if we don’t change our notions of masculinity we are never going to be able to change society because men are constrained into those roles as well. So I don’t want to just focus on women. While I am focused on gender dynamics, I also want to understand that the intersections between race and ethnicity and sexual orientation and all of those diversities. Part of the goal of the institute is to stay away from this obsessive focus on women. We don’t even have women in the title of the institute. We really believe if we focus on women, we’ll get stuck back in a conversation about how to how to fix women when what we really want to do is fix gender dynamics and we want to fix society and fix structural issues.

LiisBeth: After reading “The Rise of Gender Capitalism,” it made me want to stock my portfolio with nothing but gender-inclusive companies. Would that be a good idea?

SK: Do you mean a good idea from the standpoint of financial performance?

LiisBeth: Sure.

The jury is out on about whether it’s “superior performance,” but what we do know that at a minimum it’s not worse performance than other similar types of portfolios. So, if you want the same performance as other portfolios but you want to make sure you aren’t investing in companies that are discriminatory, then it’s a brilliant thing to do.

LiisBeth: How do you sell gender capitalism to feminists who may have been anti-capitalism, anti-investing, anti-business?

SK: So the capitalist system is an incredibly powerful tool for social change. But as soon as you engage with the system, you risk being coopted to the point where feminism becomes just another marketing tool and that’s very tricky and we don’t have an answer for it yet. You look at a company like Dove, which has a marketing campaign about every woman’s body being beautiful. That’s great and a lot of people have hailed that as a great step forward for women and other people say, yeah, but Dove is still trying to sell products that people use to make themselves beautiful. So maybe you’re being coopted. So I think the way to talk to people in the women’s liberation movement who may have seen business and investment as the enemy is to say, yes, it can be. So you have to have those honest conversations but you have to have to be in the conversation. You can’t avoid the conversation. It’s like during the peak of the AIDS crisis, when we still didn’t have many good treatments. And ACT UP was a grassroots organization that was very focused on treatment and getting drugs developed for treatment. They were very much a protest movement but at the same time they realized they had to get to sit at the table with the pharmaceutical companies to talk about research priorities and the only way to do that was to get super educated about the science and then go to these tables and say, no, this what we know and this is what we should do. And where ACT UP had its greatest success was in coupling the incredible protest they did to raise awareness with the engagement in the conversation, the willingness to sit down and try to change the priorities. I think it’s the coupling of those two things that can make progress. I’ve learned a lot from what ACT UP did to think about what we might do about engaging when we start talking about gender.

LiisBeth: Do you think that women who have had some success in business are sufficiently feminist? Are they keen to apply a gender lens or are they a little too co-opted by the current system?

SK: I don’t want it to be that women have to be sufficiently feminist. We all have to be feminist. Why aren’t we asking, are men sufficiently feminist? If women rise up, they rise up in whatever way can. Right now the system is a patriarchy so women are going to rise up benefitting from the values of patriarchy. They are not going to be suddenly feminist in a world that isn’t. So I think it’s unfair to expect that women should be more feminist than men.

LiisBeth: So how are men reacting to this gender lens theory of capitalism?

SK: There’s a big spectrum. There’s a percent of men who are all on board and have maybe experienced a moment of radical empathy, so they actually know how to think differently about this, how to question their own privilege. There is a percent on the other end of the spectrum who think this is BS and aren’t interested in changing because they’re not interested in giving up any of the benefits of that come with the privilege they’ve experienced. And there’s a big bunch of men in the middle who get it or don’t get it or kinda get it and think it’s probably a good idea but don’t really know what to do and don’t have this as a priority. Yeah sure, totally for it and it’s a good thing to do but it’s not on their top 10 list of what they’re going to spend time on. And it’s the same thing for women. We can’t have different expectations for women than we do for men. But we need to convert more men. At Rotman, we now have a men’s ally group that is focused on men having those moments of radical empathy so they can become true champions and not just indifferent actors in the middle of the process.

LiisBeth: We could talk for hours. But is there anything I haven’t asked that you think is critical to get across?

SK: We need to find a way to get gender to intersect with business, the economy and finance and that’s not a straightforward process. It’s not just about making a business case. We need to figure a way to engage that doesn’t involve coopting and that’s the experiment we’re running right now and hopefully we’re going to make progress.


Next Up: LiisBeth talks to Bitch media co-founder Andi Zeisler, author of We Were Feminists Once, who will speak at the LiisBeth salon and Rotman School on Wednesday September 21, 2016, marking the Gender and the Economy Institute’s inaugural speaking event. 

Details below (for tickets click here).

Gender and the Economy Experts Speaker Series @ Rotman

5:00 PM – 6:45 PM

Andi Zeisler, Co-Founder and Creative/Editorial Director, Bitch Media Nonprofit Feminist Media Organization; Author, We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl ®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement (PublicAffairs, 2016) on “From Riot Grrrl to Marketplace Feminism: Selling – and Selling Out – Feminism”.

Tickets are $34.99 and includes a copy of the book. A reception follows.

Related Reading

Gender Lens Investing

The Rise of Gender Capitalism by Sarah Kaplan and Jackie Vandenburg

 

Categories
Activism & Action Transformative Ideas

The Rise of Gender Capitalism

THE-RISE-OF-GENDER-CAPITALISM

LiisBeth is proud to re-print this amazing interview with Sarah Kaplan, Professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School of Management (University of Toronto) by Karen Christiansen, Editor-in-Chief of Rotman Management magazine at the University of Toronto.

Sarah’s recently published article, The Rise of Gender Capitalism, published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2014, can be found here:

Karen: You have been researching an emerging movement that lies at the nexus of gender and investing. Please describe it.

Sarah: What we are seeing is a variety of initiatives that are examining ‘how capital is deployed’, and making sure that it’s done in ways that help to achieve economic justice for women and girls. All sorts of loosely-connected organizations and individual actors are involved, but they’re all aligned around making progress in this area.

These initiatives recognize that only six per cent of venture capital funding goes to women-led businesses; that only a small percentage of participants in start-up accelerators are women; and that there are very few women in leadership positions in large financial institutions — or any companies, for that matter. The fact is, around the world, women have much less access to capital or even basic banking and financial products than do men, and this is hurting the global economy. The goal of these
initiatives is to create growth, prosperity and economic value by rectifying these problems.

Karen: What does it mean to invest ‘with a gender lens’?

The way we see the world affects what we do in the world, so the lens aspect is about shifting the way we see things. The gender part of it is about making sure we consider how what we ‘see’ is influenced by gender. When you put the two together, investing with a gender lens means using a gender analysis to uncover hidden opportunities and recognize bias in the deployment of capital. Clearly, it can’t be true that only six per cent of potential start-ups should be led by women. There is a bias there. Recent
research shows that if you take an identical business plan — same PowerPoint, same content — and have it narrated by either a man or a woman, 60 per cent of investors will choose to invest
in the man’s business plan.

It’s not that anyone is trying to be sexist; these are implicit biases,and both men and women possess them. So, this approach says, why not recognize that these biases exist and begin to deploy capital towards opportunities that are being overlooked? It can also apply to the creation of products and services. Companies across industries should be thinking more carefully about the different requirements of men and women. For years, car companies tested their vehicles with female crash test dummies in the passenger seat; only recently have they started putting them in the driver’s seat. It was as if, somehow, women weren’t driving cars!

In some industries, like pharmaceuticals, there are very high stakes. In the drug-approval process, firms have been required to test on both men and women, but they have not been required to report the gender-disaggregated data. As a result, we don’t know if men and women should be taking different dosages, or if interactions might occur due to different hormone levels. We’re only learning now, for example, that some sleep drugs have radically different effects on men and women. Paying attention to
gender-disaggregated data would enable pharmaceutical firms to provide much more effective products — and reduce their liability. There are all sorts of similar hidden opportunities just waiting to be found if you look at investments through a gender lens.