The Good Fight

by Jessica Appelgren on January 30, 2013



The recent lift of the U.S. Military ban on women in combat positions inspired Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in an NPR Marketplace segment aired last week, to advise women in corporate America to avoid “the Ps” – Personnel, Public Relations and Purchasing – if they want to get to the top in business.

Kanter’s main point is that for women to be taken seriously and considered for increasingly senior roles within an organization, they need to be aligned with the areas most critical to the long-term success of the business. In her mind, the three “P’s” are soft.

“This is why women in combat is so important. If you are restricted from the heart of what the enterprise does, you’ll never get to the top,” she says.

As a career communicator who has used public relations as a tool to help position companies around their sustainable offerings, my knee jerk reaction was offense. In our roles at Saatchi & Saatchi S, we partner with company leaders, often CEOs directly, on communications initiatives that create direct and lasting corporate value.

What Kanter fails to recognize in her piece by calling out the three P’s is how mission-critical they each are. Communicating with and engaging employees in the priorities of the company, communicating with external stakeholders and procuring the most cost-effective, sustainable materials and tools for the job are all crucial activities of the most successful companies.  And yes, while top leaders will be able to connect their work directly to the heart of the business, to avoid the three P’s as routes to senior leadership is to ignore how each of those P’s are growing in importance to a business’ bottom line and the ascent of corporate sustainability as a driver within companies.

From my chair, it’s actually remarkable to note how sustainability and CSR are becoming a direct pathway to the top for women business leaders. Saatchi & Saatchi S CEO Annie Longsworth led a discussion at the 2012 Sustainable Brands conference on women in sustainability, exploring the commonalities between sustainability as a career path and attributes women often exhibit in the workplace. The room was packed with passionate perspectives from men and women on the subject and it will be an area that the team here continues to explore.

While a GreenBiz 2011 salary survey shows there’s work to be done – finding two-thirds of VP of Sustainability roles at large organizations are held by men with a 20 percent pay gap between men and women at the highest levels of sustainability – the ascent of women leaders in CSR across sectors is a reason to cheer.

This week I’m cheering loudest for Annie, who was named last week on Triple Pundit’s list of “35 Female CSR Leaders.” Believe me, we’re just getting started.

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