By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a recent study by Catalyst and Harvard Business School, companies with more female leaders may be considerably more socially responsible than those with without many women at the top.

The study’s authors, Rachel Soares, Senior Associate, Research, Catalyst; Christopher Marquis, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Harvard Business School; and Matthew Lee, Doctoral Candidate, Harvard Business School, say the study showed a connection between gender-inclusive leadership and corporate social responsibility.

Anabel Pérez, Senior Vice President, Development at Catalyst, commented, “Companies are realizing that advancing more women to senior leadership roles has many benefits, including increased financial performance and sustainability.”

She continued, “As this study shows, inclusive leadership has a positive influence on the quantity and quality of an organization’s CSR initiatives. When business leadership includes women, society wins.”

The study shows that Fortune 500 companies with more three or more women directors or 25% or more women corporate officers made considerably larger charitable donations than those with zero women directors or 0% women corporate officers, respectively.

Female Leader Mean Larger Contributions

The study, “Gender and Corporate Social Responsibility: It’s a Matter of Sustainability,” utilizes corporate philanthropy as a measure of how much emphasis a company places on CSR.

The analysis showed a striking difference in the amount of money contributed by companies with gender diverse leadership at the board level. Fortune 500 companies with three or more women directors gave an average of $27.1 million in 2007. Those with zero women directors gave an average of $969,000.

That’s 28 times higher, notes the report. While the report focused donations in 2007 specifically, it said a historical analysis from 1997 to 2007 showed the trend held true over time. Additionally, it said, “With each additional woman, annual philanthropic giving increased by $2.3 million.”

Similarly, Fortune 500 companies with 25% or more women corporate officers gave an average of $12.8 million – compared to companies with 0% women corporate officers, which gave $965,000.

The report indicates that the result is more than a coincidence. It says:

“It’s not only a matter of companies with more women leaders being larger and having more money to donate or of companies with more women being clustered in industries with higher levels of charitable giving. After controlling for key factors that might influence the amount of donations, including financial performance, company size, and industry, the presence of women leaders in Fortune 500 companies still has a significant, positive effect: more women leaders is correlated with higher levels of philanthropy.”

Are Women More Charitable?

The report considers several potential causes for the increase in philanthropy when leadership is significantly diverse. First of all, it says, one reason is that companies that are more mindful of gender diversity may simply be more mindful of fairness in general. As a result, it continues, “Operating with gender-inclusive leadership can provide diverse perspectives on fairness, which may broaden the company’s understanding of CSR and generate a higher level of philanthropic activities.”

A recent working paper by Marquis and Lee also considered the influence of gender on philanthropy. The two surmised that one reason women leaders may increase corporate philanthropic donations is simply because women tend to give more to charity at the individual level as well.

Secondarily, they said, women are more likely to be socially conscious, and therefore give more money. They write:

“…women senior managers and directors of corporations may be better able to appreciate the importance to the firm of relationships with potential beneficiaries of corporate philanthropy. As a result, the perceptual boundaries of large firms may be expanding into areas clearly outside the corporation to incorporate more diverse stakeholders (Konrad et. Al, 2008).”

The Catalyst report hints at this relationship as well – defining CSR as a strategy for corporate sustainability (ensuring that business is viable in the long term). Women may have a better view of making sure the company will be around in the long term – rather than a quarterly-driving strategic vision. By investing in philanthropy, the report implies, women are influencing the long-term sustainability of a company.