How women can become business leaders, linking poor nations to carbon markets, and how to do corporate social entrepreneurship

How women can break the barriers

Time, it used to be said, was all that was needed to redress gender inequalities in the workplace. Get more women into business school and onto professional courses, and tomorrow’s leaders would emerge from the woodwork.

Now academics are not so sure. For two decades, one in three MBAs in the US has been a woman, but women hold only one in 12 leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies. The same is true in Europe, where women occupy a third of managerial positions but account for only 3% of chief executives.

The fundamental problem, the authors of this paper argue, is a mismatch in perceptions. The qualities traditionally associated with leaders do not tally with those traditionally associated with women. The stereotype holds that leaders must be assertive and aggressive – characteristics perceived as unattractive or inappropriate in women. Indeed, the more success women achieve in traditionally male roles, the more criticism they can expect for their lack of femininity. Hence Golda Meir, Israel’s first prime minister, could be dubbed “the only man in the cabinet”.

In leadership contexts, these biases play out in how organisations structure leadership paths and positions and how people perceive women leaders. Albeit unwittingly, organisations perpetuate the message that women are not fit for leadership roles. And it’s not just men whose ideas are distorted by a cultural lens. Women themselves struggle to develop a “viable self-view” of themselves as leaders.

Having assessed the barriers, the rest of this paper concentrates on how potential women leaders can throw off the shackles that bind them – through identity management. Research shows that women tend towards protective self-presentation rather than the male tendency towards “form before substance”. Ditch the neutral tone, the authors argue. High-potential women should identify role models, proactively experiment with “provisional identities”, and work with internal standards and external feedback.

This paper is insightful in that it rejects the assumption of so many leadership-lite books for women; namely, that the essence of leadership lies primarily in what leaders do. Leadership is as much or more about who leaders are and the contexts in which they lead. It is time companies twigged that.

“Women and Leadership: Defining the Challenges” by Robin Ely and Deborah Rhode, in Advancing Leadership, Harvard Business Publishing, forthcoming.

Budgeting for cleaner investments

Low-carbon growth. It’s the catchphrase of the hour. And rightly so. But how to engage developing countries that frequently prefer poverty reduction today to saving the planet tomorrow? Integrate them into the global carbon market, this paper argues. Again, the question is how. The answer: clean investment budgets or CIBs as the authors name them.

The proposed mechanism takes a realistic approach. Emerging economies would have to adopt binding greenhouse emission reduction targets, but within the practical limits of their economies. By doing so, such nations can access carbon finance quicker and more efficiently than at present.

The proposed breakthrough of CIBs is for allowances to be granted above current emission limits. Developing countries would therefore have a ready pool of emission allowances to play with. These, in turn, can be used as collateral to secure private financing; to repay equity or debt finance in clean energy projects, to finance the transfer of clean technologies, and so on. A neat circle.

“Docking into a global carbon market” by Gernot Wagner et al, in The Economics and Politics of Climate Change, Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

From CSR to CSE

The classic image of a social enterprise is a fleet-of-foot, grassroots, do-gooding start-up. Add “corporate” into the mix and the concept suddenly becomes muddled. That need not be the case, this working paper maintains. “Corporate social entrepreneurship” (CSE), in essence, is just corporate social responsibility done better.

CSE’s conceptual roots derive from the notion of individuals as change agents. Add to that a healthy spirit of “creative destruction”, plus the innovative leveraging of resources, and an entrepreneurial spark is lit. Whatever the origins, the end goal of CSE is clear: “To accelerate companies’ organisational transformation into more powerful generators of societal betterment.”

This paper applies these conceptual foundations to a study of two supposed CSE stars: clothing company Timberland and coffee chain Starbucks. None of the conclusions is rocket science: create an enabling environment, foster corporate social “intrapreneurs” (internal entrepreneurs that work for a company), amplify the company’s purpose and values, create “double” social and economic value and build strategic alliances. Each is discussed in detail, culminating in an analysis of the challenges and opportunities presented by the CSE agenda.

This paper is essential reading for anyone who thinks that business’s full social impacts will be realised not when companies do more corporate responsibility, but when they begin to do corporate responsibility differently.

“Corporate Social Entrepreneurship” by James Austin and Ezequiel Reficco, Harvard Business School, working paper, March 2009.

Campus news

Elizabeth Scharpf has been named the first Harvard Business School social entrepreneurship fellow. The fellowship programme aims to support recent Harvard graduates who are launching social enterprises.

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