Designing a Corporate ESG Programme that Attracts, Nurtures, and Retains Women

Corporate ESG Programme

By Chaitra Vedullapalli

Inclusion is the new kid on the block that every company interested in advancement is courting. And one of the best methods to do this is through the environment, social, and governance (ESG) movement. But implementing this is not as easy as it sounds, many companies have run into roadblocks while trying to attract and retain women. Can corporate ESG programmes be successful in bringing women in and helping them thrive in their roles?

The 21st-century workforce is changing and companies must now adapt their recruitment strategies to attract, retain, and nurture women. This is the result of the environment, social, and governance (ESG) movement, which encourages corporate accountability for the effects their operations have on people and the environment.

Updating the scorecard with clear and meaningful ESG metrics, timelines, and targets is an important step towards top-level buy-in, and additional incentives, such as tying bonuses to ESG performance, can go a long way towards incentivising positive change.

While the breadth of ESG is vast, senior executives are most interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) assurance, according to Deloitte. There is a particularly strong interest in women in the workplace — but we cannot meaningfully discuss women at work if we are not considering their entire professional lifecycle; that is, how they are acquired, trained, and moved up the ladder.

The ideal ESG programme should reflect this, collecting and disclosing nuanced metrics about how professional women are attracted, nurtured, and retained. This will only become more important as women continue to join the global tech force and rise through the ranks.

company meeting

Challenges to Corporate ESG Programmes

While supporting professional women has never been more important, there are still many roadblocks that must be overcome. Here are the major challenges I have noticed:

1. Women in Leadership Are Still Lagging Behind:

Taking action to solve, rather than simply discuss, the problems of gender inequalities in the tech market. Despite national momentum for inclusion, gender diversity in leadership is still underperforming overall, and women are still underrepresented in boardrooms and the C-suite.

2. Businesses Need Female Leadership Stories:

To attract more women to tech jobs, it is important that they can see themselves behind a specific company’s desks. A key part of a company’s brand marketing should be highlighting its diverse workforce. By showing women that the doors are open, they are more likely to take a step inside.

3. Lack of ESG Structure Maturity:

It is also clear that the relatively new ESG governance structure has not yet matured. Governance refers to decision-making and the distribution of rights and responsibilities across a company, including C-suite compensation and oversight. In a strong ESGprogramme, the representation of women should be reflected in the company’s governance and standards.

This requires robust and nuanced DEI policies and programmes. However, many of these existing policies are not sufficient to attract, nurture, and retain professional women in the long haul. DEI programmes that are especially helpful in promoting women include returnships, flexible work hours, remote work opportunities, and executive sponsorships.

Such programmes show a dedication to gender diversity. It is also crucial to make sure top leaders have skin in the game by, for instance, linking CEO compensation to ESG performance. A few big-name companies, like Apple and McDonald’s, have begun doing this. However, companies of all sizes should show the same level of commitment.

meaningful ESG

Recommendations

What does it mean to succeed in ESG? The ideal corporate ESG programme recognises women across their entire professional lifecycle. It tracks a combination of quantitative and qualitative metrics to ensure that growth is being made on a numerical and personal level. To achieve this, companies have to think critically about their structure and operations and identify key areas of improvement, such as representational leadership, pipeline development, and working conditions. Here are some of the key insights I have learned about ESG programmes that work.

Policies

I have spent many years working on diversity and inclusion (D&I) issues in corporate sustainability programmes, and while we are making some progress, most companies still struggle with designing successful ESG policies.

Policies are at the heart of meaningful corporate change. It is critical that a governance structure is put in place to ensure that the ESG programme is given the same attention as other corporate initiatives. From there, companies can begin launching policies to tackle issues like pay equity and maternity leave.

Programmes

Understand that company-sponsored programmes are key to inciting change, attracting talented women, and increasing your existing workforce’s performance.

Understand that company-sponsored programmes are key to inciting change, attracting talented women, and increasing your existing workforce’s performance. Returnships are especially important since they let you reach out to a talented candidate pool of women who have taken some time out of the professional world. Through reskilling, upskilling, and mentorship programmes, companies can support and gain from this often overlooked candidate pool. Other programmes to consider are allyships and leadership skilling (both internal and external, like WICxLEAD).

As an example of a great programme, imagine designing a crowdsourced five-day working week option for women that includes equal pay, and equal advancement opportunities, and that is flexible enough to accommodate maternity leave, sick days, and children’s school events.

Partnerships

It is also important to understand the power of partnerships. Whom a company partners with is an indication of its values. In this way, partnerships are an expression of a company’s brand and a chance to gain awareness for a genuine commitment to ESG, such as joining Women in Cloud’s empowHERaccess partnership to show your support for professional women.

Partnerships can also open the door to meaningful social change and brand publicity. Just think about Dove’s campaign to help women overcome stereotypes. They rewarded people who shared their campaign video with an equal amount of money as they spent on the market research project. Suddenly, Dove means more than bath products.

Measurements

Finally, it is important to consider measurements. To build a successful ESG programme, companies must be able to measure their performance against target goals. Key to this is the CEO scorecard — the “dashboard” containing the CEO’s most important business metrics. If the included key performance indicators (KPIs) have nothing to do with ESG, then it is clear that the CEO is not representing the company’s values.

Updating the scorecard with clear and meaningful ESG metrics, timelines, and targets is an important step towards top-level buy-in, and additional incentives, such as tying bonuses to ESG performance, can go a long way towards incentivising positive change.

While there is still a lot of work to be done to ignite access for women in tech, we are making progress. As more companies build ESG programmes to hold themselves accountable for social change, they are also discovering that it does not just benefit the world — it helps their bottom line.

About the Author

Author ImageChaitra Vedullapalli is the Co-Founder and President of Women in Cloud, as well as the Co-Founder and CMO of Meylah, a Cloud Solutions Provider and Microsoft Gold Partner. An author, in-demand speaker, and change leader, she is helping to drive conversations about digital transformation and women in tech at the United Nations and among top corporations.

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