Wednesday, July 30, 2014

McKinsey Survey on Sustainability

In the Insights and Publications area of their website this month, McKinsey & Company reported the results of their survey of over 2,900 global corporate leaders (down from 3,847 in 2012) on the topic of sustainability. See: 

A key conclusion was that “many companies have far to go” before they can master the reputation, execution, and accountability of their sustainability programs. Less than half of the respondents (43 percent) stated that their companies sought to “align sustainability with their overall business goals, mission, or values.” That represented the largest share of respondents, but an increase from 30 percent in 2012. Thirty-six percent of CEOs stated that sustainability was a top priority compared to 32 percent of all other respondents.

A closer look at the underlying details raises some concerns.  McKinsey inquired about 13 core sustainability activities from which executives could select their priorities.  The field of sustainability includes four domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture in which human interaction with the environment can be synergistic and productive, rather than wasteful and destructive.

McKinsey said executives stated that specific sustainability priorities in 2011, 2o12, and 2013 for their companies were as follows:

       reducing energy use in operations (64 percent),
       reducing waste (63 percent), and
       managing their corporate reputations for sustainability (59 percent).

“…among these activities, reputation management has the highest value-creation potential for their industries over the next five years.”  Reputation management includes communicating with customers/consumers and external shareholders/stakeholders about their sustainability activities.

In other words, companies primarily are concerned about how their sustainability efforts are being perceived by their constituencies.  They view sustainability on a par with marketing, advertising, and public relations presenting their companies as “good citizens” in the battles and debates about environmental impacts.

Is this really what we want from our economic and business leaders? Does this suggest that CEOs/executives are more interested in the appearances of their work in sustainability rather than their actual performance metrics and accomplishments? McKinsey at least included “execution and accountability” among the core competencies to be tracked and monitored, but CEOs/executives opted for the more ephemeral “reputation” impact.

Using the example of companies in the extractive industry sectors, McKinsey stated that companies focused on three “reputation-building actions:”

local community investments,
external reporting, and
employee volunteering.

None of these relate to substantive measures WITHIN corporations. Local community investments provide positive PR for companies for work conducted outside of the company walls, often by public entities. External reporting means that companies are not presenting transparent documentation or action reports about their own actions and measurable results. Employee volunteering is companies riding the backs of well-intended workers.  Where are the measurable accountabilities of companies themselves?

Sustainability has many potential economic activities that are far more important and measurable than “reputation management.”  These are suggestive:

         Reduce packaging
         Re-utilize materials
         Alternative energy sources
         Pollution reduction
         Water conservation
         Prevention of adverse environmental impacts

The core requirement of sustainability should be reminiscent of the guide to those enjoying our National Parks: enter only with your eyes and your camera, take out only your memories, leave only your footprints. Your reputation as a global citizen will take care of itself.

Presenting Yourself

Presenting Yourself: Reflecting Your Worth in Your Presentation Skills

SPEAKER: Elizabeth Ghaffari, Founder of Champion Boards & President of Technology Place, Inc

In this two-part presentation, Elizabeth Ghaffari discusses the research and advice provided by Ellen Welty in her Redbook article entitled “Are Your Words Holding You Back?” Ms. Welty’s work is highlighted in Elizabeth’s upcoming book, Tapping the Wisdom that Surrounds You: Mentorship and Women (forthcoming this Fall 2014 from Praeger). The second part discusses presentation suggestions from Elizabeth’s experience as coach and judge for Los Angeles-area business plan/pitch competitions.

Ms. Welty provided her thoughts upon viewing the presentation, as follows:

Dear Elizabeth,

What a fantastic presentation you gave. You did a great job of distilling my article’s recommendations and including the details that will make it easy for attendees to find the books written by the experts I interviewed (books that will give them a whole other level of expertise).

Your advice in the second half on how to give a better presentation was very helpful, and I loved the way you used humor to convey some of your points. Nice mention of Leroy Jethro Gibbs, also!

You asked some great questions of the attendees. I especially liked your answer to the question, “What do you do with the fear?”

And Sheila Ronning capped it all off with advice that’s as useful as it was unexpected: to bite your tongue if you’re struggling with a dry mouth brought on by nerves.

I thank you, Sheila and Cortney for sharing the webinar with me. And, Elizabeth, I truly look forward to reading your new book, Tapping the Wisdom That Surrounds You: Mentorship and Women.

Best regards,

Ellen Welty, Writer and Editor


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Women's Magazines

Our family gave a gift subscription of the New Yorker Magazine to our primary care physician so that we would be guaranteed an interesting reading experience while waiting for our appointment. As a consequence, we have become acutely aware of the available reading materials in other doctors' waiting rooms.

Recently, I visited a dominantly-female waiting room where I discovered the magazines there were: Self, Glamour, Elle, and one huge 916-page issue of Bazaar. It was the Bazaar spring fashion issue, loaded with beautiful, skinny models in this year's "must have" colors and cuts. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs never were so massive!  As I thumbed through the pages of picture after picture of near-starved models, I wondered how women could not possibly be intimidated and overwhelmed by this overdose of fashion.

I had an urge to bring in my own copies of Fortune, Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, or National Geographic just to show women what magazines with real WORDS looked like.

Since then, I have become acutely aware of magazines available to women and how they present the world of opportunities to them - young and mature alike. I walked by a newsstand and discovered that fully 60% of the display was dedicated to the limiting range of women's needs: how to dress to attract a man, how to use make-up to attract a man, how to lose weight to attract a man, how to cook to attract a man.

We express concern that girls and young women are not attracted to, or interested in, fields which we know will contribute to their secure, financially-rewarding, and intellectually-satisfying future. These fields, generally, are described as STEM - science, technology, engineering, and math - or at least professions which have these knowledge bases at their foundation.

The latest efforts in this area seek to entice young girls and women into computer science classes where they currently constitute a startling 1% of the headcount. The newest initiative, by non-profits following the lead of $50 million in funding from Google, is called Made With Code. The theme of this initiative is to persuade young girls that "programming is fun" using such examples as learning how to use a 3D printer to produce bracelets and other jewelry. Or, how to program computers to design and fabricate dresses or jeans.

Seemingly irrelevant to these efforts are the facts that women were the programmers instrumental in calculating trajectories used on board ships and by artillery in the field during World War II; a woman (Admiral Grace Hopper) led the effort to design the first business programming language (COBOL); a woman was instrumental in the founding of scientific computing (Ada Lovelace); a woman was the founder of telecommuting (Dame V.S. Shirley); women "computers" were responsible for the identification, location, and measurement of our inventory of stars - a key aspect of the origins of astrophysics; a woman (Anita Borg) was instrumental in building a fault-tolerant Unix operating system (a core component of most academic and many government computing systems today); a woman (Donna Dubinsky) was one of the co-founders of Palm Computing Co., the first hand-held personal digital assistant; a woman (Dr. Anita K. Jones) was instrumental in the early development of computer security systems within DARPA, the same entity that developed the Internet; and a woman (Ayah Bdeir) founded and is CEO of littleBits, an innovative systems hardware design business that offers an easy to use electronic construction toolkit to build electronic circuits using an extensive modular electronics library.

The Anita Borg Institute documents literally hundreds of other women role models in the field of technology and all of its related scientific professions. Rather than build on that magnificent foundation of exemplary women in computer science leadership, Made With Code advocates have decided that the best way to get women to address complex contemporary social, economic, and technical problems is to teach young girls how to make bracelets with computers, scanners and 3D peripheral equipment that cost upwards of $1,000 a pop.

Perhaps we might start by re-thinking how we teach young girls to envision their future. Could we teach them to view a future that revolves around THEIR accomplishments, rather than as an appendage to either a spouse or a family? Could we possibly teach them to view the world as an empty slate or screen on which THEY might write the solutions to substantive problems they encounter, rather than sit back and demand that someone else make it easy for them? Perhaps we need to toss them on some figurative desert island where they have to discover for themselves how to solve the problems they encounter using only the resources that surround them. Perhaps that figurative island is a hack-a-thon where they take what skills they have acquired in real programming courses and collaborate with other team-members to build an application they are willing to have judged by adults as meaningful products addressing important issues.

Young women can do this. There are stellar examples of young women of achievement succeeding in the Intel Science Fair, one of many competitions where the best and the brightest in science, engineering, and technology are acknowledged and rewarded.  Our expectations of young girls and women, as they make their educational and career choices, today, are crucial in determining which path they will follow. Will they follow a path that fills their closets and minds with clothes, trinkets, and the superficial trappings that advertisers want them to buy or will they follow a path that fills their minds with the wonders of the universe and confidence in their appropriate role in the discovery of its truths, opportunities, and solutions?