“Its now fair to say that the most enduring legacy of the Great Recession will not be the death of Wall Street. It will not be the death of finance. And it will not be the death of capitalism. These ideas and institutions will live on. What will not survive is macho,” wrote Reihan Salam in the July/August 2009 issue of Foreign Policy. The article describes the disproportionate role that men had in creating the economic crisis and the large impact that the crisis has had on them. According to Salam, so much so that the recession is now known to some economists and the more plugged-in corners of the blogosphere as the he-cession.
What is the impact of the “he-cession” on corporate social responsibility? Is macho culture antithetical to corporate responsibility? Is there a link between what many economists believe is an end to male dominance (at least in western countries) and the growing importance of social and environmental factors as key performance indicators in business?
To the extent that the recession was caused by irresponsible finance capitalism, still predominantly a men’s club, the backlash that we’ve seen against Lehman Bros., Goldman Sachs, and their cohort may also be helping to shape a new role for women as better practitioners of responsible business.
Consider the importance of partnership building in corporate responsibility. Effective partnerships are characterized by a genuine commitment to addressing the priorities of organizations that are fundamentally different from each other. In addition to understanding business objectives and practicing effective critical thinking, partnership builders need to be patient, empathetic, trustworthy, curious and collaborative. At the risk of stereotyping genders, I’d say that women may very well be better at building strategic relationships than most men.
How about other key ingredients to corporate responsibility such more employee engagement, authentic commitment to addressing social issues and reducing environmental impact, and betters ways to assess qualitative outcomes such as return on integrity?
As more people realize that recession was caused by aggressive, risk-seeking men whose behavior was chronically irresponsible, the opportunity for women to take center-stage as corporate responsibility leaders has never been greater.