Women make companies more generous

courtesy flickr user denise carbonell http://www.flickr.com/photos/denisecarbonell/

In July, Harvard researchers released a working paper showing that companies with more women on their boards of directors and in senior positions tended to have more active corporate philanthropy efforts, and to give more money, than those with fewer women at high levels. Now, additional analysis by the nonprofit group Catalyst shows just how powerful the influence of women at high levels in a company can be.

According to Catalyst's analysis, which was done in conjunction with Christopher Marquis, an associate professor at Harvard, and Matthew Lee, a doctoral candidate there:

-- In 2007, companies with three or more women board directors gave 28 times more money to philanthropic initiatives than companies without any women directors. On average, companies without any women board directors gave $969,000 to philanthropic efforts. Companies with three or more women directors gave an average of $27.1 million.

-- Between 1997 and 2007, companies with more women board members donated significantly more money than companies with fewer women in on their board. Each additional woman director represented an increase of about $2.3 million.

-- In 2007, companies where at least 25% of the corporate officers were women made annual contributions that were on average 13 times higher than those made by companies without any female corporate officers. The average company without any female corporate officers gave $965,000 to philanthropic causes. Those companies where at least 25% of the corporate officers were female gave an average of $12.8 million.

-- As in the director role, each additional woman who served as a corporate officer made a big difference. Each percentage point gain in the share of corporate officers who were women was linked to a $5.7 million dollar increase in the amount of money the company devoted to philanthropy.

The researchers say that in general, their findings still held even after they accounted for variations in company size, industry, and financial performance. More women equals more money devoted to philanthropy.

The researchers also acknowledge they have discovered a correlation: They don't have evidence of a causal relationship. In other words, it is theoretically possible that companies that give a lot of money to charity may be more attractive to high-powered women. The researchers don't think this is the case, however. As they write:

Research suggests that people define fairness differently, and that this may lead them to approach [corporate social responsibility] in distinct ways. Operating with gender-inclusive leadership can provide diverse perspectives on fairness, which may broaden the company's understanding of [corporate social responsibility] and generate a higher level of philanthropic activities.

This explanation suggests to me that women give boards (and companies) a different perspective, which in turn leads them to look at corporate social responsibility differently. Do you think this is the case? Or do you think women simply push for more philanthropy and manage to get it?

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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.

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