Recently, we came across the Green Biz article, “Is a ‘womanly’ business a more sustainable one?” by Mr. Mikhail Davis, Manager of Strategic Sustainability for InterfaceFLOR.  We would like to applaud Mr. Davis’ initiative to compliment women’s efforts in sustainability.  Since the article was written from a man’s perspective, we wanted to offer our input from a woman’s perspective.

As associates of BrownFlynn, a women-owned sustainability consulting firm, our first reaction was “YES!” women will drive advancements in sustainability.  In considering this a bit more, it seems counterintuitive to the essence of sustainability which should be manifested from a multi-stakeholder, whole system perspective.  Mr. Davis, along with cited experts, describe that people who tend to lead successful sustainability projects demonstrate left-brain characteristics: creativity, relational ability, and collaboration.  Rather than label these traits as feminine, we believe “inclusive” might be a more accurate description of what enables sustainability to prosper in business; inclusive in the sense that a company listens to and considers multiple perspectives.

After a long evolution of women’s roles in business, women can understand and appreciate inclusiveness as a consequence of not always being included, or heard, in business decisions.  If the American historical context had been reversed, meaning that men were originally excluded, it is reasonable to assume that men would be more appreciative of inclusiveness today.  Therefore, we believe that inclusiveness is more related to context than gender.  As a result, women, who stereotypically demonstrate the traits of inclusiveness, do not necessarily have an advantage in sustainability.  The potential for inclusive behavior exists in everyone, so it is up to individuals to express those characteristics in order to lead successful sustainability initiatives.  While the extent of inclusiveness may vary by individual, several theories of human nature demonstrate the existence of inclusiveness in both male and female interactions.

According to sociologists and management experts, there are two forms of group life relating to inclusion: animal form and spiritual form.  The animal form of group life causes people to give up their individual identities to become part of a group.  It also incorporates the social identity theory, in which people seek to feel oneness with or belongingness to some human aggregate.  In other words, we desire to be included.  What differentiates humans from other animals is our spiritual form of group life, in which unified groups enable people to develop their own individuality.  In the “Disputed Questions” article, Thomas Merton, a well-known Catholic writer and mystic, states that the group process of individuation “safeguards the autonomy and character of each as an inviolate and solitary person.”  In other words, by including people in a group, we are able to grow as individuals by learning from others.  Therefore, in order to be more sustainable, we should work in “spiritual groups,” in which individuality is maintained and enhanced, and all members are included, heard, and respected.  These theories demonstrate that animal and spiritual tendencies are part of human nature; we just have to unleash and harness those traits that will benefit our companies and our sustainability efforts in particular.

All in all, before a company can prosper in sustainability, it will need to be inclusive with an open mind and open “ears” to all perspectives.  Companies should reflect on their corporate responsibility behaviors and actions to determine if they display comprehensive attributes.  Informative questions to ask include: Is there diversity of thought, background, gender, nationality, and perspective?  Are all voices heard?  Are decisions made in an open-minded manner?  If your company answers yes to all of these questions, and you can confirm that it uses an inclusive, multi-stakeholder approach to management, your sustainability initiatives will thrive, whether they are led by men or women.

By Brittany VanderBeek, Intern at BrownFlynn