The Most Successful, Sustainable Organizations Will Be Driven by Feminine Leadership – Sustainable Brands

Posted: November 23, 2021 at 3:59 pm

An insightful panel discussion on women in leadership unearthed several critical traits for the type of leadership we need in a healthy, sustainable, equitable future and signs that theyre beginning to transcend gender.

On a sunny Tuesday afternoon at SB21 SanDiego, astanding-room-only lunch session packed with women from all corners of businessdelved into the evolving nature of sustainable leadership a collaborative,more empathetic style of leadership that is emerging to meet the moment.

Gwen Migita Senior Principal of ESG at Point B;formerly VP of Social Impact, Sustainability and DEI at CaesarsEntertainment led the discussion with three women who have risen to thehighest ranks within their organizations. Migita opened by asking the threeexecutives what female leadership means to them and their companies.

Diversity brings new perspectives, fresh ideas and better innovation, saidJulia Luscher, VP of marketing for Tetra Pak. At Tetra Pak, we are100 percent supportive of women in the food and beverage industry, but wecontinue to see gender gaps. So, it is our responsibility to make sure that wetry to bridge those gaps fairly but ethically.

Katie Decker, Global President of Essential Health + Sustainability atJohnson & Johnson ConsumerHealth, said J&J might be arefreshing exception to the conventional rule of male-dominated businesscultures.

Read the latest Sociocultural Trend Tracker research from our Brands for Good collaboratory and The Harris Poll which examines consumer progress in adopting more sustainable behaviors, as well as brand trust scores during this unprecedented confluence of societal crises.

When I look around at my colleagues at Johnson & Johnson, so many of the peoplewho are driving change on sustainability topics just also happen to be women. Ithink it has a lot to do with gender equity and equality at the company, Deckersaid. Prior to Johnson & Johnson, and I've been here 20 years, I worked at aFortune 10 technology company in a field sales oce with about 150 people andI was basically the only woman. At Johnson & Johnson, I think we're up at like55-60 percent women; sometimes I look around the room and I kind of feel bad forthat one guy in the meeting!

Over the years I've nearly always worked in citizenship and sustainability, andnearly all my clients have been women; so, I take that as one data point thereare a lot of powerful women in sustainability roles, said Hannah Peters EVP of Corporate Reputation & Brand Purpose at WECommunications. But I'm sitting here today as aleader in no small part because of the people who believed in me even when Ididn't believe in myself, who were role models for me. I'm looking at one rightnow, she said, gesturing to a nearby table. Virginie Helias chiefsustainability ocer at Procter &Gamble. She has inspired mea lot I've watched her onstage so many times and today, she's here watchingme; and for me, that's what women's leadership is all about inspiring thewomen around you and continuing to show up for them.

Aside from stereotypically feminine traits such as altruism, empathy andself-awareness, Migita asked the panel to dig deeper on whats different aboutfemale leadership. As an example, Decker recounted a companywideemployee-engagement initiative.

On our journey to help 20,000 employees make every decision through the lens ofsustainability I think because it was women leading it, our first instinct wasthat we needed to go more grassroots, to bring people on a journey and be reallycollaborative and allow space for people to bring their own creativity to theproblems, Decker said. Yes, there was a little bit of top-down; but it was somuch more about the journey and the movement that we were creating; and I thinkthat has a lot to do with some of the qualities of the women leaders collaboration was really at the heart of that.

The conversation turned to what it looks like when companies work to move beyondgender balance to true diversity and inclusivity where both leaders andemployees feel supported in bringing their whole selves to the workplace. Deckerdescribed a program that helped teams within J&J create safe spaces for opendialogue following the murder of George Floyd and the racial unrest thatreignited as a result.

Last summer, when a lot of female leaders were having a hard time figuring outhow to talk to their teams about these events or felt that a lot of these thingswere going unacknowledged among teams we started an allyship program, shesaid. We do it once a month. And its [all about] building awareness andempathy; trying to help teams reflect on their experiences, their ownunconscious biases, their own journeys and then start building empathy forother s. And it's remarkable what that program has unlocked within our meetings,within our culture, within the things that people talk about we haveconversations about racism, about how do we make products and clinical studiesmore inclusive not just within the Black community but in all underservedcommunities. There's a lot to be said about education and just trying to putyourself in someone else's shoes I think that's just the beginning of what weneed to do to make a dierence.

There's a stat I've seen that at Fortune 500 companies, 54 percent of chiefsustainability ocers are women but the reality is also that the majority ofthem arewhite,Peters pointed out. So, there is still a gap that we need to address.

I personally think that there is almost too much of a focus on recruitingdiverse talent and not enough of a focus around what happens once people arewithin the organization, Peters added. I've reflected on this a lot gettingsomeone inside your organization does you no good if they leave and they aren'tultimately successful, and they don't see role models. Recruiting, of course, isimportant but we have to look across the organization; we have to think aboutonboarding and training, and how we measure success; and what we can do to meetpeople where they are, even if their background might be dierent. There's notenough of that happening.

We need to be really honest about what's working and what's not working. Imean, we have three white women on the panel today I just think we always haveto ask ourselves what more we can do, Peters stressed. It can't just be aboutrecruiting a pipeline is really important, too: We focus a lot on working withhigh school students, with college students introducing them to purposecommunications early, so that they can be excited about it and get on that pathand be part of the larger pipeline for us in the future.

The women's leadership lunch panel L-R: Gwen Migita, Julia Luscher, Hannah Peters and Katie Decker | Image credit: Sustainable Brands

Decker stressed the importance of creating a culture of belonging.

There are two principles that are important for that: One is the ability todrive a culture of psychological safety, where anybody can feel free to be theirauthentic selves, say what's really on their mind, with no fear of reprisal. Ithink that's something that women can uniquely create. The other thing isservant leadership knowing that you're putting the needs of your team, becauseof the purpose, ahead of your own needs; I think that's another thing that womencan uniquely do and that goes a long way into driving a culture of belonging.

Luscher drew inspiration from anepisode of theNetflix series, Explained, that chronicles how humans domesticatedwolves to become dogs through generations of breeding in desirable traits suggesting a potentially similar approach to inclusive team- andculture-building.

They took the traits of the nice, domesticated type of dogs and bred them tocreate these wonderful pets that we have today. As a leader, choose people forthat team who have the right traits, who will exemplify inclusivity. To me,that's what we as leaders need to do not choose men or women, but choose theright traits that we have to have in place in order to build more diverse andinclusive teams.

The panelists all pointed to broader cultural changes as signs that theembracing of female traits in strong leadership is here to stay.

The three of us on the panel were of a certain generation, where we didn't havethe best characterizations of women as leaders. We grew up looking at movies,communities, television where most of the leaders were men and most women whoexhibited femininity were seen as weak. And that's not something we need to passon to our next generation, Luscher said. It is okay to be a former ballerinaand take an executive role; it is okay to have been in a sorority and take anexecutive role; it's okay for you to be diverse and exhibit femininity and be inimportant leadership roles and that's why we need to make sure that the rolemodels that we are today, the next generation sees that we are indeed verydierent and diverse.

I also have a lot of optimism around how mindsets are changing, Peters said.Last night, Sandy [Skees, Porter Novelli] mentionedresearchthat's been consistent to what we have found around executive and leadershipbehaviors over the past 18 months, C suite leaders are really leaning intobeing more vulnerable, being empathetic; thinking about, what are my personalvalues and how do I want to show up? And I think a lot of those qualities thattraditionally have been more associated with women, men are now recognizing andembracing. We're moving beyond the sort of aggressive leadership style tosomething that is way more appropriate for the current moment that were in, sothat gives me a lot of optimism that some of these changes will be permanent.

Another feminine trait exhibited by some of todays more courageous leaders iswalking their talk and staying true to their, and their organizations, values.

Looking at the brands that I believe will flourish in 2021 and beyond are theones that are showing up with bravery and bold action despite knowing thateveryone may not agree, Peters said. It could look like Marc Benio atSalesforce, oering to relocate all of his employees inTexasbecause of the abortion legislation that just passed. It could look like Procter& Gamble over the years, so many examples of taking a brave stance: on genderequity,closing the wagegapfor the women's soccer team, starting a conversation around toxicmasculinity really showing the role that brands can play.

Honestly, the biggest question that we get from clients is, should we engage onthis issue? Should we weigh in and what does that look like? Peters said. Ialways tell people there's really two things to think about: First, what do youstand for, what are your values, what's your purpose as an organization? Andwhat do your stakeholders think about it, how your employees feel? And then, I'mgonna steal this from Maddy Kulkarni yesterday in her panel, she said that the best initiatives are timely, butthey're grounded in timeless purpose. So, yes, jumping on to a cultural orsocietal moment or something in the news yeah, that makes PR sense; it'srelevant but don't do it if you don't have the long-term commitments to backit up.

Any advice for the next generations as they move up the corporate ladders?Migita asked.

Rely on those who have been there not only on the women leaders insustainability but the men who are also driving this in a good way and acceptingof dierent points of view, dierent ideas, new perspectives, Luscher said.And continue to try and change those patterns when it comes to innovation inSTEM roles typically roles men have been taking, but let's try and reinforcethe importance of women to take those roles as well, so that we can build thatpipeline.

Don't be afraid of those typical male roles and don't feel that you'reresponsible for taking typical female roles, she added. We may be the rolemodels and are continuing our journey, but we need the younger generation to beable to carry on from where we will leave o.

Someone I turn to a lot is Bren Brown she says,who we are is how we lead," Peters offered. "I think that women's leadership starts with us asindividuals, with being self-aware, with demonstrating self-compassion andempathy; we have to do that first we have to take care of ourselves. I saw a phrase the other day called intentional flexibility, andthat's what we have to embrace as leaders. We have to continue to be flexible asleaders and as employers; so, I think it's intentional flexibility in thatcontext and intentional flexibility with ourselves.

And women's leadership means using our access to power and resources to makemore room for voices, to get more people at the table," she added. "I mean, the number ofchallenges that we're facing as a planet we're never going to solve them unlesswe all work together to build a more resilient andregenerative future.

Decker closed by addressing the audience, packed full of female leaders: You're allchange agents here you're part of leading some pretty major change in yourcompanies or with your partners. When we can connect the emotion or the heart ofthe situation with the logic, heart + head = change.

Published Nov 23, 2021 7am EST / 4am PST / 12pm GMT / 1pm CET

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