Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Businesses (still) discriminate against women

So. Another International Women's Day has come and gone. Celebrating the achievements of women. Doesn't do much for me, I have to say. The implication is that it's sort of amazing or even surprising that women achieve anything at all. Unlike men, for whom achievement is apparently quite natural as they don't have a Day all to themselves, international or otherwise. International Women's Day to me is quite unnecessary. As a woman, wife, mother, business-owner and yes, achiever, in my own modest way, I don't really need a Day. I am happy to celebrate my own achievements in my own way whenever I feel I want to.  

On the other hand, none of us can have any doubt that the need to create a society in which fair and equal opportunity for women exists is no less acute than it ever was. And that, apparently, takes longer than a Day. The position of women in society - certain societies - has improved over the years, but women are still discriminated against. This applies to business as much as it applies in other walks of life. No matter how many sets of Women's Empowerment Principles exist, gender equality in business is still somewhat of a distant dream. 

Sustainability. How can business be sustainable when it discriminates against women? Even the most advanced "sustainable" businesses discriminate. Let's be clear. If women do not have balanced representation in business, discrimination is present. It may not be overt, declared or even desired, but it's there. This is not resolved by adding women to Boards of Directors. It's fairly easy to pluck selected distinguished women and place them on (rather impotent) Boards of Directors so that the numbers look better. I would be interested in seeing research that shows what influence women Directors are actually having in influencing the way business does business. Forgive me for being a little skeptical.

I am more interested in how women have equal opportunity to enter and advance in business, especially the large, typically male-dominated companies that do business around the world. Many consumer goods companies actually target women who make most of the purchasing decisions for their products and yet women's representation in their senior management committees is pathetic. 

Corporate Knights makes a big splash every year announcing the Global 100 - most sustainable corporations - at the World Economic Forum. By all accounts, this is one of the better lists (although all rankings serve the rankers more than the ranked). With the Global 100, the methodology is clear, transparent, and covers the spectrum of sustainability performance areas. In 2015, however, the ten companies that headed up the Global 100 list have just 11% of women in their Executive Committees. They have a higher rate of women on the Boards of Directors, but where it really counts, women in senior executive roles, the figures are rubbish. At the same time, most of these companies have workforces that are 40 - 60% composed of women. What happens to women when they join these companies? How come that, in a combined workforce of almost 200,000 women in these ten top companies, only 9 get a key to the executive committee room? Men, on the other hand, have a better chance of getting a seat on the Executive Committee by a factor of almost five. Three of these top ten companies have ZERO women on their executive committees. So you tell me, are these companies discriminating against women or aren't they? (Hint: not no).

Biogen Idec: The world's most sustainable company has 17% women representation on it's executive management team. That's 2 women out of a team of 12. The two women are the Chief Legal Officer and the VP for Technology and Business Solutions. This is what Biogen Idec says about women in its 2013 Sustainability Report:

"To continue to thrive as a company and an industry, we must advance leadership opportunities for women. In 2013, the Women’s Forum of New York formally recognized our commitment as one of the 174 U.S.-based companies honored at the event for having a board of directors that is at least 20 percent women. Women currently make up just over half of our global workforce, and 40 percent of our management team. As we continue to advance in this area, one way we are striving to close this gender gap is through our Women’s Innovation Network (WIN) Employee Resource Group, which provides opportunities for women to network, learn, seek out mentors and develop their careers. Though primarily focused on women’s careers and leadership, WIN proactively recruits and welcomes employees of all gender identities who wish to act as allies. At present, more than 800 women and men from across the enterprise are members of the network."

This is how Biogen Idec represents the numbers visually:
Note how the high numbers stand out... 51.5% total women  and 40% women in management. Wonder why there is no visual presentation of women on the Executive Management Team. That would read:
Aside from a resource group (dubious effectiveness in actually helping get women promoted), I don't see evidence of a plan to improve women at executive team level.

Allergan: The world's second most sustainable corporation has ZERO women on its executive management team. Yes, ZERO. Yet, this is what Allergan says about women in its 2013 Sustainability Report

"In 2013, women comprised 53% of our workforce and 40% of our leadership roles. This includes more than 39% of our manager and director roles, and nearly 27% of our executive positions. We were also fortunate to have one exceptional female member of our Board of Directors who brings truly exceptional credentials to our organization and is committed to its development."

Note how the high numbers stand out. 53% of the workforce at Allergan means more than 6,100 women. Not a single one worthy of helping to run the company. And the "exceptional" female director doesn't seem to be able to do anything about it. Allergan says nothing about any plans to address this gender imbalance in its organization. 

Allergan website - gender balance in action. Not.
Instead of talking about 27% of executive positions, Allergan should highlight the percentage of women executive team members, i.e.  
And perhaps in its reporting, the company might like to explain how it is that zero women are worthy of senior leadership, and what if anything, the company plans to do about it. 

adidas: The third most sustainable corporation in the world has ZERO women on the Executive Team. The Adidas 2013 Sustainability Report includes a 2014 milestone to "Systematically increase the percentage of women in leadership positions." The website expands a little, stating: "The adidas Group has set itself concrete goals in line with its corporate culture and employee structure to increase the number of women in leadership positions in the coming years. The proportion of women in management is to be increased to at least 32% by 2015 (currently, the proportion is 26% in Germany and 28% worldwide). To achieve this goal, we have increased the proportion of women participating in our leadership development programmes to 35%. This is to help more women take up leadership positions in all areas of the company. We had already achieved this corporate goal at the end of 2012."

Note how adidas quotes the big numbers relating to women in leadership. But, if Adidas were to highlight the number of women on the Executive Management team, the result would look like this
adidas employs more than 50,000 people. Not one single woman worthy of an executive team position. 

Keppel Land: This is the fourth most sustainable company in the world, according to Corporate Knights. And Keppel Land has the highest ratio of women on the senior management team, 2 out of a team of 6, which is 33%. Keppel Land is a real estate company, employing less than 4,00 people in total. And yet, even with such a small total workforce compared to other companies in the top ten sustainables, Keppel Land managed to identify two worthy women leaders, both of them in significant business P&L roles. 

Kesko: The fifth most sustainable corporation has 1 woman out of a team of 8 on the senior executive team (Group Management Board). This is with a workforce of 45,000 employees of whom more than 50% are women. The one woman is the General Legal Counsel.  Rate of women in executive management? 

BMW: The sixth most sustainable company with more than 100,000 employees can manage just 1 woman on the Board of Management out of a team of 8. The woman is the Human Resources Manager. Despite this, BMW has by far the lowest rate of women out of these top ten companies in the total workforce at 17%. Don't women buy cars? I hope they don't buy BMWs.

BMW women in Management:

Reckitt Benckiser Group: The seventh most sustainable company has 1 woman on an executive team of 8.


Centrica: Centrica has one woman in a team of seven top execs. Centrica's website displays some interactive charts that show different performance indicators, including this one for women. Lots of room on this chart for improvement.....


Schneider Electric: This ninth most sustainable company has the largest senior management team of all the top ten. A whopping 15 members. You might think this would give opportunity to find a few women from the 153,000 people in the Schneider workforce to help lead the company. As it stands, just one makes the grade.

Overall women in the Executive Team?

Danske Bank: Perhaps it's fitting that the tenth most sustainable company in the world rounds off this sorry state of women's affairs with a big ZERO women in the management Executive Board.

However, Danske Bank does make a commitment - one of the few that does:

This is not entirely out of the blue. This is what prompted Danske Bank to get more women-action-oriented: 

"In 2012, the Danish Parliament adopted legislation to ensure equal rights for men and women in private organisations. The law requires Danish companies to set specific targets for the number of women on the Board of Directors and to develop policies to increase the number of women in leadership positions. In their annual reporting, companies must also report on the progress made towards these targets and on the implementation of a diversity policy. We have already come a long way in developing a diversified and inclusive workforce, but we recognise that we still have some work ahead of us.

12.5% women on the Executive Board  of six members adds up to 0.75 women. I wonder which 0.25 part they are planning to leave out? Nonetheless, appointing three quarters of a woman executive by 2017 (four years from the 2013 report publication) is some sort of commitment, but forgive me if I am not falling off my seat. Today the score is:

Well, all that was rather disappointing. I confess to being a little surprised that companies that are named as "most sustainable" are so unwilling to promote women. I am sure none of them will admit to discrimination among their ranks. But look at the numbers. Draw your own conclusions. It will take more than an International Women's Day to fix this. In fact, several Days haven't. Let's move on from a Day to Every Day.  

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing YOUR Sustainability Report? Contact elaine:   

Friday, March 6, 2015

Will I take the G4 Exam?

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo !

GRI has introduced a G4 Exam. With bold billing as the Next Step for Sustainability Professionals, the G4 Exam is a 60 question multiple choice exam covering the GRI reporting phases. GRI says: "The G4 Exam will give candidates an opportunity to demonstrate to the market their ability to use the G4 Guidelines. "

I beg to differ. 

Pay lots of money. Attend a GRI Training Course (typically around Euro 1,500 or more). Pay more money (Euro 315-500 per exam). Take the exam. And WOW. Collect all the certificates and get your name on the GRI website so that people will think you can write a G4 Sustainability Report. Answering questions about the framework does not equate to ability to use the framework. Something doesn't work here for me. 

While I have long advocated that GRI use its force for good to improve quality use of G3/G4, my reaction to the G4 Exam is like.. err.... super cringe. In my view, it implies that quality reporting is equal to knowledge of a reporting framework, and this is simply not the case. Answering 60 multiple choice questions about G4 does not make you a good reporter and does not even demonstrate that you fully understand the intricacies of G4 reporting. The pass mark is 75%. So you can get 15 questions wrong.

And OMG. I hope this does not indicate a new trend in sustainability disclosure. Will we see a CDP Exam? An IIRC Exam? A SASB exam? A GHG Protocol Exam? A UNGC COP Exam? An ISO 26000 Exam? Maybe it's back to school for everyone..

The implication is that reporting is only about understanding the technicalities of the G4 framework. Reporting is at least as much about the process and the content and navigating the endless organizational hurdles that need to be overcome before a Sustainability Report is birthed. A useful G4 report is more than the sum of the boxes you tick and the disclosure labels you add.

Of course, if a company decides to use the framework, it should use it correctly, so some form of quality control is a good thing, as I have (very) often said in the past. But the quality control should cover the report, not the theoretical knowledge of the framework. Anyone who has sat through a training program and memorized the framework can sit the exam and get a certificate. They may have never worked on a report.

On the other hand, perhaps the G4 Exam is a good measure of an individual's commitment to fully understanding the framework before taking up the practice of reporting. Perhaps the G4 Exam is good for internal reporters who want an additional qualification or proof of competence within their own organization. Perhaps the G4 Exam will actually help prevent consultants and reporters becoming confused with the finer points of the guidelines and misrepresenting them in reports, as so often happens. Perhaps it will help people actually notice when they do.

Wondering if my views about the G4 Exam are overly critical, I did a little asking around. I won't mention any names, but these are the reactions I received when I asked a group of sustainability professionals I respect from around the world whether the G4 exam is a good thing or a bad thing:

"It smacks of opportunism. I also have concerns about how it extends the GRI brand."
"My initial thought was, that's weird, and possibly a waste of time, but on reflection it seems OK - though it would be much more meaningful if they developed a proper credential from this. The test alone is too obscure to create a qualification mark for practitioners."
"It can be a way to shift "enthusiastic" to "book smart".
"I think it's an interesting initiative, however, I believe that many organizations will do it do just for marketing I think reporting ability is shown more by experience, since that gives richness to the learning and continuous improvement. It seems difficult that GRI accepts only a methodological framework."
"This attracts relatively unqualified people that then can use the GRI name to promote themselves. The exam will “certify” as “experts” people that have merely read the guidelines. They capitalize on the brand name to lure naive people into their courses and now exam. Irresponsible, crassly commercial."
"I think it is better than nothing (i.e., anyone can be an expert) but it is misleading that good test score = expert."

The real question is will reporting quality improve as a result of people passing the G4 Exam?

GRI has always sat on the sidelines with regard to report quality. The Application Level checks of old often led to misrepresentation, enabling reporters to use GRI officialdom to claim "highest accolades" and "certification" by GRI when the checks only covered a small random selection of indicators. Now, GRI has developed a suite of report checks at higher prices than in the past, and even, a higher than higher priced "fast track". So now, if you are a non-Organizational Stakeholder corporation, you can use the Content Index Service (Euro 4,500 for a comprehensive report), the Materiality Disclosures Service (Euro 2,400), or the Application Level Service (Euro 1,750). For an additional Euro 750-850, GRI promises a turnaround of half the regular time.

The thing is, that none of these "services" actually provide a thorough and reliable check on the quality of the report adherence to the G3 or G4 frameworks. They are all designed to confirm the presence of disclosures in the place that the reporters say they should be and/or the quantity of disclosures included in the report. In the Content Index and Materiality Matters checks, for example, if you have said you have reported EN1, GRI will check that your disclosure is on the page you said it was. But GRI will not check that the disclosure is complete or if it actually discloses everything that the framework requires. In other words, GRI will check that you have a train ticket and that you got on the right train, but GRI won't check that you actually stayed on the train until you got to your destination.

The Materiality Disclosures Check is less useful. It confirms that you included the material disclosures on the pages you said they should be - including, specifically, a list of material topics (G4-19). But it does not check that, in the rest of the report, you have actually disclosed anything material (i.e. performance indicators that demonstrate performance relating to material issues). What's the point of that?

All of this is GRI side-stepping reporting quality and increasing reporting "we are great" hype. The G4 exam, in my view, amplifies the hype. Have GRI publicly confirm to everyone you can do something without you ever having done it.  I think it's rather disappointing that GRI lends its highly-regarded brand to this sort of individual promotion.

If GRI were committed to improving reporting quality, it would make more of an effort to think deeply and strategically about what quality application of the GRI reporting frameworks actually means and then go back to the drawing board and develop a methodology to provide a reliable, comprehensive, thorough and meaningful check of report adherence. Skimming the surface with almost-quality checks may be convenient (and encourage uptake because it's easy) but the result it delivers does not advance sustainability or sustainability reporting. I have ceased recommending the use of these services to my clients. I just hope none of them ask me to take the G4 Exam.    

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing YOUR Sustainability Report? Contact elaine:   

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

15 insights from the Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference

The fourth annual Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference last week in London was by all accounts a great success. We heard from a range of experts, raised several challenges and discussed the finer points of what makes reporting smarter. Here is a selection from my opening comments to the conference as everyone braced themselves for an action-packed day:

"G4 has emerged as the leading reporting framework with close to 1,000 reporters now having started their reporting journey with G4 or transitioned to G4. Has G4 made a difference? We do see a new relationship emerging with materiality but many reports are still written with a shopping list mindset – a list of "everything good that we did". The G4 transition is still working itself out, but it's a positive development. GRI has even introduced the G4 EXAM – to prove that people who write reports really can. 

The European Directive for non-financial reporting came into force in December 2014 with around 6,000 organizations expected to get on the train by 2018. Will they just show up or will they use the reporting process to add value? In other countries, such as Taiwan and Singapore, reporting has become mandatory. Sustainability reporting is apparently not going to disappear. But what will make it smarter? 

In 2014, more companies than ever reported to the Carbon Disclosure Project. CDP now reports impacts across a range of topics – climate change, water, sustainable cities, forests, and supply chains on the basis of data submitted by 4,500 of companies representing over a third of the world's invested capital. This is a database too large to ignore. 

The IIRC continued its journey and its search for identity as more companies start to pilot the framework to explain how they create value for investors. The UN Global Compact launched a program for Boards of Directors so that Directors can actually learn what's going on. SASB has published more and more standards, but when you get beyond the hype, you realize that in some cases, you need to be a rocket scientist to understand the actual performance measures. The jury is still out on whether companies will adopt these standards and if they do, and how they will influence materiality processes. 

And talking of materiality, there is still no agreement across the board on what it actually means for sustainability and despite even more declarations of harmonization and collaboration talks, all we are seeing is more and more declarations of harmonization and collaboration talks."

All conference photos in this post are courtesy of, the conference organizer. Thank you!

Here are some of the things that others said throughout the conference (and a short reaction from me). 

Mardi McBrien, Managing Director, Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) : "In 2007, at the World Economic Forum, companies were saying there are too many ways to report climate change. Investors were saying, "well, we don't use it anyway"."
Err. What's changed?

Nelmara Arbex, Chief Advisor on Innovation in Reporting, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): "Personally, I believe that reporting promotes change and innovation. Reports used to talk about the past. Now they should be talking about the future."
I agree. But when exactly does the future start?

Sarah Grey Markets Director, International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC): "Smarter Sustainability Reporting is a pretty big issue for business. Sustainability is about having a strategic impact in the market. Hopefully some of the integrated reporting thinking will help sustainability reporting having that strategic impact."

Verity Lawson, Sustainability Reporting Manager, British American Tobacco: "I think especially for an organization like us that is operating in a very controversial sector, it is particularly important that stakeholders can place trust in what we report. So the robust frameworks and processes such as independent assurance and GRI are particularly helpful. But while it is encouraging to see all the developments - G4's focus on materiality, the IR framework, the harmonization talks - frankly it is very overwhelming for reporting companies."
Harmonization is great in theory. The problem is, it's always theory. 

LTR: Shaun Davis, Louise Tyson, Irene Jakobi, Neil Barrett, me

Neil Barrett, Vice-President, Sustainable Development, Sodexo: "It's really about using sustainability reporting to create actions that will be of value to our clients. Increasingly our clients want to understand how we are helping them in their own sustainability journey".
It is great when reports are useful as part of regular business processes. And when clients know what to do with them!

Shaun Davis, Group Director - Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability, Royal Mail: "Reporting is all about engagement and taking people with you. We shouldn't forget how powerful it is as an engagement tool to talk to people about sustainability environment, safety wellbeing etc."
Tried it lately?

Louise Tyson, Head of Reporting, BP: "A lot of work goes into preparing information for reports and this is wasteful if it's mot material. Less is more. In the last three years we have cut our reporting by 30%. We are hoping that more concise reporting targeted to what our stakeholders want to know will help us answer their questions better." 
100 page reports - a thing of the past? 

Irene Jakobi, Sustainability Manager, Telekom Austria: "Now we have taken a more creative approach. Our first reports were more classic with hands and people and green trees. In 2008, we started to make a shift to more communicative content." If you want creative, look at Telekom Austria's reports!

Telekom Austria - the age of the graphic novel

Megan Mitrevski-Dale, Associate Director, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Communications, Coca-Cola Enterprises: "Starting in 2005 we set ourselves a target to reduce our operational carbon footprint by 15% by 2020. OK, we said, operations means our manufacturing facilities and field sales offices. But as we started to go through it, we realized that that's only part of the story. If our product gets to a store and its not in a cooler, no-one will buy it.  Then we realized that our main carbon footprint isn't in our operations. It is actually in our vending and cooling facilities."
How many companies think they are doing fantastically by reporting internal operational footprints when, all the time, their true impact is beyond the factory walls?  

Christoph Wilfert, Chief Executive Officer, PE International: "We think the software side of sustainability management is going to change dramatically. How do you get past email and excel spreadsheet management to support our sustainability reporting efforts? To us, reporting is not a journey of harmonization that frankly will take a very long time to come together to make your lives easier. We think its an app."
Down with harmonization. Up with apps. 

Simon Howard, Chief Executive Officer, UK Sustainable Investment & Finance Association (UKSIF): "Thirty percent of assets worldwide are run with sustainability as an aim and it's growing very fast. Can a fund manager have too much sustainability information? Overwhelmingly yes. The information they want needs to be material, relevant and timely."
G4 to the rescue. 

Paul Toyne, Group Head of Sustainability, Balfour Beatty: "We have an integrated report that has sustainability sections in it, and we use our website to disclose a lot of information. What's interesting is that when we start to get into disclosure, we spend so much time and effort to get to group level data and aggregating up to global level, but the investment we have taken here doesn't really drive performance. If we invested more time and energy into the source data and dealing with the impacts, then we would actually improve performance."
The old story of the chicken and the egg. Data to drive performance or performance to drive data? 

Crystal Crawford, Corporate Responsibility Manager, Liberty Global:  "If we manage internal reporting requirements well, then it will drive reputation and recognition. We have 45,000 data points in our data collection process." 
Data to drive performance. 

Katie Buchanan, Head of Sustainability and Reporting, Virgin Media: "At a market level its about having a real responsibility to try to bring to life the material issues for our key audiences which are our staff and our customers." 
Materiality in practice and not only in a matrix. 

All in all, a packed conference with a packed agenda and many insights for reporters, future reporters and reporting partners. We addressed the tools used for reporting, the frameworks and the practice. We plan to do the same thing next year. Same but different. In a year's time, the world will have changed and the Smarter Sustainability Reporting goalposts will have moved once again. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing YOUR Sustainability Report? Contact elaine:   
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