Corporate sustainability initiatives offer the opportunity for new approaches and new leadership, opening the door for female executives to make a key contribution, says management professor Anne Reilly.
This spring, Reilly was awarded a 2016 Faculty Fellowship from Loyola’s Gannon Center for Women and Leadership. The fellowship is funding her analysis of the gender composition of executive leadership and its impact on sustainability in firms ranked highly in Newsweek’s global “Green Rankings.”
Reilly is joined in her research by students Taylor Bradshaw, BBA ’17, Deanna Cabada, BS ’17, and Anna Chudzinski, BBA ’18.
While the study is not yet complete, the research team has already been able to draw some conclusions.
Most striking, according to Reilly, is that while the proportion of women corporate leaders remains small, preliminary findings indicate women leaders are highly visible in key sustainability executive roles, perhaps due to their greater concern over issues related to sustainability and corporate social responsibility when compared with their male counterparts.
They’ve also found that green firms in the food industry and media firms are more likely to have female leaders in sustainability driven roles. Software, specialty retail, healthcare, and insurance companies have few women in sustainability or executive leadership roles.
The research team is also examining global sustainability by exploring European Union legislation on sustainability and gender.
While research is expected to continue through academic year 2016-17, the first paper—The Evolving Role of the Chief Sustainability Officer: Responsibilities, Attributes, & Impacts—has already been accepted by the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management’s workshop on Talent Management.
“Sustainability is the future of strategic business and will only continue to grow in importance as consumers seek out eco-friendlier brands,” says Reilly. “Businesses should adapt or risk losing customers to more sustainable brands.”
Reilly adds that sustainability is also an area of risk management and ignoring it can turn into a supply chain issue. For example, food companies need to support sustainable agricultural practices to ensure the continued availability of key ingredients.
The three student researchers describe working with Professor Reilly as a great collaborative experience because she’s open to their ideas and values their opinions.
“As a young woman who someday aspires to lead, having the opportunity to study sustainability and female leadership was something that I was very interested in,” says Cabada. “Working with Professor Reilly has only improved my ability to synthesize data and draw valuable conclusions from it.”
Chudzinski adds, “The chance to improve my skills as a researcher, while highlighting opportunities for women to lead is an experience that will stay with me. I truly believe that we’re doing important work that will hopefully bring about change in corporate America.”