July 22nd, 2010 | 6:00 am

Why Communicating CSR Efforts to Women Can Really Pay Off

filed under Corporate Sustainability

iStock_000008881479XSmallBy Andrea Newell (Grand Rapids, MI)

Currently women make up about half the U.S. workforce, so more than ever before, retaining women in the workplace is an important issue. Many businesses offer work/life balance, flex time, and other family-friendly incentives to attract, inspire and keep female employees, but a recent survey shows another surprising way to make women happy: do good, and tell the world about it.

A survey conducted by the Simmons School of Management and Hewlett-Packard during the 2009 Simmons School of Leadership Conference reported that female employees who thought their employers were ethical and supported socially responsible initiatives were happier with their jobs, thought less about quitting, and were more likely to champion their company in social settings. However, the findings also showed that since many women were unaware of their company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, employers were missing out on this unexpected benefit.

The results showed:

  • More than 75% of respondents indicated that “making a positive impact on society” and “expressing and acting in line with my values” are important to them
  • Respondents also said that “when CSR is an important part of an organization’s business strategy, it contributes to the fulfillment of ‘individualistic’ career needs, such as ‘opportunities to develop one’s professional skills/expertise’”
  • 45% reported awareness of their companies’ CSR efforts
  • 35% reported that they have participated in their companies’ CSR activities

As more and more businesses are realizing the importance of socially responsible initiatives as a sound business strategy, reaching and influencing women is critical in more ways than just retaining female employees. Social responsibility also makes a big difference to consumers, and women make 85% of consumer purchasing decisions. In March 2010, Penn Schoen Berland, Landor & Associates, and Burson-Marsteller released the results of their second annual Corporate Social Responsibility Perceptions Survey that gauged consumer opinions of companies in 14 industries, from apparel to telecommunications.

Although the respondents were both men and women, knowing that women make the vast majority of purchasing decisions casts these results in a new light.

  • Despite the recession, more than 75% of consumers responded that social responsibility is important no matter the industry
  • When choosing between similar products, 55% are more likely to choose a product that supports a certain cause
  • 38% plan to spend the same or more on products or services from socially responsible companies compared to 2009
  • Only 45% of respondents say they know the meaning of the term “corporate social responsibility”
  • Only 11% say they have heard communications about CSR from any company in the past year
  • 59% plan to spend the same or more (45% and 14% respectively) on products from socially responsible companies in the coming year
  • 70% are willing to pay a premium on products from a socially responsible company
  • 22% are aware that their companies have CSR practices, 25% say no and 53% say they don’t know if their companies have CSR initiatives
  • 34% of respondents would take a pay cut to work at a socially responsible organization (majority being younger workers 18-24)
  • Only 13% of respondents have read about a company’s CSR agenda on the corporate website
  • Of those who have read about a company’s CSR efforts on their website, 26% are much more likely and 49% are somewhat more likely to purchase a product from that company

These surveys show that (female) employees and both male and female consumers are paying attention to social responsibility. The key? Communication. The authors of both reports advocate better communication of social initiatives both internally and externally. Spreading the word inside your company is a great way to build goodwill, loyalty, and job satisfaction. Additionally, female employees have indicated that they would be proud to spread the word of their company’s social efforts, and this type of communication can be worth ten times any media campaign.

Who best to get your message out? Yep. Women again. In June 2010, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship released a report detailing the profile of today’s corporate citizenship leaders. In its key findings, it shows that (among respondents) women outnumber men 3-to-1, although the percentage of men who hold a senior or executive level position (49.7 percent) is far above the number of women (26.9 percent). Although respondents indicated that creating partnerships inside the company (86.3 percent) and relationships outside the company (84.2 percent) were a part of their responsibilities, evidently even more attention needs to be paid to these activities. Employee involvement can be crucial to the success of a CSR program. In 2010, The National Environmental Education Foundation released a study showing that “environmental and sustainability (E&S) employee education and engagement initiatives help companies achieve a range of business objectives from attracting and retaining employees to boosting the bottom line.”

So shout your CSR efforts to the rooftops – or at least to all the corners of your company. Employees and consumers alike are watching, and women in the role of employee, consumer, CSR representative, and community member can be powerful allies.

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