Earlier this month, Fortune released its yearly Most Powerful Women list. As expected, it was a very impressive list, comprised of women from various sectors and job titles, as well as different backgrounds. While reading through their inspiring achievements and qualifications that landed them on this list, there was one thing I noticed most of these women had in common: they set goals for their companies that went much further than just increasing profits.
CVS Health's CEO Karen Lynch is ranked Number 1 on Fortune’s list. After making CVS a vital component of the country’s pandemic response by turning their stores into testing and vaccination hubs, Lynch is currently focused on using this groundwork to transform neighborhood CVS stores into health care super clinics, which could revolutionize the way many Americans receive medical care. Accenture's chairman and CEO Julie Sweet (No. 3) has set ambitious environmental goals for the company, such as having net zero carbon emissions and net zero waste by 2025. Angela Hwang (No. 11), Group President of Biopharmaceuticals at Pfizer, is not only responsible for a team that generated $42 billion in sales for the company in 2020, but she’s also been recognized by outside organizations for her work to encourage diversity and inclusion at the company.
These women are just latest in a long line of women CEOs who make giving back a core part of their company mission. Sarah Kauss founded water bottle company S’Well in 2010 in response to the world’s clean-water crisis. Not only do the water bottles reduce waste from disposable bottles, but the company also partners with various global charities to plant trees and provide access to clean drinking water in less developed countries. In 2012, Sara Blakely held the title of youngest self-made billionaire as the owner and founder of Spanx, the body-shaping undergarments that have transformed women’s fashion. Not only does the company have a designated philanthropy board where employees allocate a portion of the company’s profits to give away to charity, but Blakely founded her own charity in 2006 that aims to help women all over the world with education and entrepreneurship opportunities. In 2013, Trina Spear and Heather Hasson co-founded FIGS, a company that makes scrubs with high-tech fabrics that are antimicrobial and water, odor, and stain resistant. For every set of scrubs FIGS sells, they donate a pair to a medical professional in a less fortunate country. Clean scrubs reduce hospital infection rates by 66%, so by donating these uniforms FIGS is helping both health care workers and patients.
To be fair, women CEOs aren’t the only ones who give back to their local and global communities. Dave Heath is co-founder and CEO of Bombas, a line of athletic-leisure socks. Because socks are the number one most requested clothing item at homeless shelters across the United States, for every pair the company sells, they donate one to someone in need. To date, the company has surpassed 50 million donations. Similarly, Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, started an initiative called Buy a Pair, Give a Pair. For pair of eyeglasses the company sells, they donate a pair to someone in need. As of 2014, Warby Parker had donated over 1 million pairs of eyeglasses through this program. Hamdi Ulukaya, the owner, founder, chairman and CEO of Chobani, brings his philanthropic endeavors into his company literally. Not only has Ulukaya made many generous donations to refugee relief funds, he’s also hired over 600 refugees from Asia, Africa and the Middle East to work in his factories.
Most people know that these kinds of philanthropic endeavors go a long way to create a favorable public image of company, but the benefits go far beyond that. Studies show that employees at companies that give back are more likely to feel connected to their employer (Ireland, 2019). Additionally, by donating their time or money to charity, CEOs and other executives have an opportunity to lead by example, which also fosters a greater sense of community within the organization. Another benefit of engaging in company-wide charitable work is that it can help attract fresh talent. Studies suggest that socially conscious millennials are drawn to companies whose missions and goals align with their core values (Ireland, 2019). By appealing to this mindset, the organization can gain a fresh perspective and further their financial and charitable objectives. At the end of the day, corporate social responsibility matters not only to customers and current employees, but potential new employees as well.
While engaging in these altruistic endeavors is admirable, a company’s ultimate goal is to create profits for its shareholders. And it turns out that female executives might have an edge over male executives in that regard. In 2019 S&P Global recently did an analysis of 5,825 newly appointed executives, of which 578 were women. In the 2 years following their appointment, S&P found that the companies who appointed female executives saw their stock prices rise an average of 20% higher than those who appointed a male executives (Sandberg, 2019). “Female CFOs drove more value appreciation, better defended profitability moats, and delivered excess risk-adjusted returns for their firms,” the report said. Likewise, when looking at the stock performance of Fortune 1000 companies from 2002 to 2014, women-led companies earned a 340% return to their investors, compared to an S&P 500 standard benchmark of 122% (Why Your Next CEO Should Be a Woman, 2020). Even Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank admits to investing in women-led companies more often because he finds their returns to be higher. Of the women-led companies he has invested in, 95% of those met their financial goals, where only 65% of the male-led companies did the same (Castrillon, 2019).
So, what else do women executives bring to the workplace? Well, according to the research, a lot. Numerous studies have shown that women-led companies have increased productivity, greater innovation, better decision-making, and better communication (Castrillon, 2019). Another survey from 2019 found that 71% of men and women who saw a female executive appointed in their company felt they could also achieve leadership or management roles (The Harris Poll, 2017). This shows that not only are female executives helping with return on investments and productivity, but they are also encouraging and inspiring their employees. Women executives can also have a positive impact on customers. Research suggests that women-led companies have more robust marketing strategies, more publicity, and more online presence (Why Your Next CEO Should Be a Woman, 2020).
The exact reasons why women in leadership roles have such a positive impact is difficult to pinpoint. Studies have shown that female executives are less worried about traditional or old school thinking and are more open to the idea of changing and challenging the status quo, to see if they can get better results (Post, Lokshin, & Boone, 2021). This results in employees being more open to change and outside the box thinking. MIT conducted a study that showed that women have better results and outcomes, and better performance, because of their emotional intelligence and ability to “read” a situation (Reynolds, 2015). Additional research suggests that a female executive could also be a better fit if the company is struggling. This is because women are thought to be better equipped to manage a crisis better, thanks to their intuitiveness, empathy, and emotional intelligence, which might come more naturally to them than men (Zenger & Folkman, 2020)? Major corporations Yahoo and GM found this to be true, so when their companies hit turbulent times, they brought in Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) and Mary Barra (GM) to steady the ship and bring the companies to more steady footing. It appears having a female executive not only brings new ideas to the table but inspires the company to be more open-minded and more creative.
As Davis Laine’s new Operations Manager, I hope to channel some of these incredible women’s intelligence, determination, and commitment to a greater sense of purpose for their company. One of the exciting aspects of being the first anything is getting to make your own path, so as our first Operations Manager, I look forward to finding ways for Davis Laine to give back to our community and go above and beyond the bottom line.
Castrillon, C. (2019, March 2019). Why Women-Led Companies Are Better For Employees. Retrieved from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinecastrillon/2019/03/24/why-women-led-companies-are-better-for-employees/?sh=39288c1b3264
Ireland, S. (2019, February 28). Jeff Yapp On Why CEOs Should Give Back To The Community. Retrieved from CEOWorld Magazine: https://ceoworld.biz/2019/02/28/jeff-yapp-on-why-ceos-should-give-back-to-the-community/
Post, C., Lokshin, B., & Boone, C. (2021, April 06). Research: Adding Women to the C-Suite Changes How Companies Think. Harvard Business Review.
Reynolds, M. (2015, February 25). Studies Suggest That Women Are Natural Born Leaders. Retrieved from The Huffington Post: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/studies-suggest-that-women-are-natural-born-leaders_b_6730542
Sandberg, D. J. (2019). When Women Lead, Firms Win. S & P Global.
The Harris Poll. (2017). FEMALE LEADERSHIP IN THE ERA OF #METOO .
Why Your Next CEO Should Be a Woman. (2020, July 3). Retrieved from business.com: https://www.business.com/articles/why-your-new-ceo-should-be-a-woman/
Zenger, Z., & Folkman, J. (2020, December 30). Research: Women Are Better Leaders During a Crisis. Harvard Business Review.
About the Author
Melanie Lawler is the Operations Manager of Davis Laine, LLC, and has spent years in her career supporting companies in their growth operations efforts. She is a vocal advocate of diversity and equity in the workplace and excited to share her perspective with a greater audience.