Study: Female-led Companies Are More Generous

A November study released by nonprofit research firm Catalyst found organizations that have three or more women sitting as members of their board of directors donated an average of $27.1 million toward philanthropic contributions in 2007. Corporations with no female board members, on the other hand, donated an annual average of $969,000 the same year.

“That’s 28 times higher,” said Rachel Soares, senior research associate at Catalyst and a co-author of the report, “Gender and Corporate Social Responsibility: It’s a Matter of Sustainability.”

Catalyst defines social responsibility as “expanding the definition of [corporate] success beyond profit.” Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has gained interest since the financial crisis, as awareness of widespread corporate greed has increased. While many companies have viewed CSR as part of their core business strategy for years, others are just beginning their efforts on the front.

Catalyst, which is active in research dedicated to advancing women’s efforts in the workplace, partnered with researchers from Harvard Business School to examine how corporate leadership and organizational structure influenced CSR.

By focusing on how female leaders might impact corporate social responsibility, Catalyst and Harvard researchers analyzed philanthropic contribution data of Fortune 500 corporations from 2007 — the most recent year data was available.

The study also found that organizations with 25 percent or more women sitting as corporate officers had average annual company charitable contributions of $12.8 million in 2007. Organizations with no women as corporate officers donated an annual average of just $965,000.

Beyond collecting and analyzing the average from 2007, the researchers looked at a historical regression analysis of the data from 1997 to 2007.

During that 10-year period, companies with more women sitting on executive boards also donated significantly more funds. With each additional female board member, annual philanthropic giving increased by $2.3 million, according to the study. Additionally, for every additional percent increase in the presence of female corporate officers during that 10-year period, annual donations increased by $5.7 million.

Why companies with more women in these executive positions give more on average than those that don’t rests on how diverse groups interpret fairness, the study said. Research suggests that different groups of people define fairness differently. Therefore, corporations that encompass a more diverse set of people throughout their leadership ranks may “broaden the company’s understanding of CSR and generate a higher level of philanthropic activities,” the study said.

“Operating with gender-inclusive leadership gives the organization a diverse perspective on fairness, and that’s what we think is leading to the increases in quality and quantity of CSR initiatives,” Soares said.

But solely zeroing in on how women contribute to CSR is too narrow a focus, said Pamela Arnold, president of the American Institute for Managing Diversity Inc. (AIMD), a leadership diversity think tank.

Aside from the different perspectives of fairness that women may bring to the table, Arnold said, they may also be of differing ethnicities or generations — two additional diverse perspectives that may also contribute different views on fairness or giving.

Arnold added that, in her view, while the data on women as a main driver toward corporate social responsibility appears valid, further digging into the subject is merited.

“I thought it was interesting that [the study] gave the factors on the donations,” she said. “But then how it does it translate even further down to the bottom-line business?”

The study argues — without citing specific evidence — that increased quality of CSR strategies positions organizations for more sustained growth.

“When leaders in these companies highlight gender in their CSR strategies,” Soares said, “the payoff will extend beyond the company and into society, and companies can create success by embracing the importance of women.”

Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Diversity Executive magazine. He can be reached at

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