Category Archives: Featured

Making it to the World Heritage List: Envisioned and Hidden Effects

By Lotte Thomsen.

UNESCO’s World Heritage designation of places around the world has the honorable purpose of taking responsibility. Taking responsibility for the preservation of things that may otherwise be left unpreserved, and for which destruction would be a severe loss. Yet, making it to the World Heritage List is known to have both positive and negative effects that reach far beyond the  preservation of, for example, architecture. It may change the daily life of host communities immensely – not least in the Global South. The World Heritage site of Hoi An in central Vietnam is one of those places in which listing has led to preservation and enormous change at the same time! The city itself certainly is both well-preserved and stunning. But what is going on behind the facades of the beautiful old houses that millions of tourists visit every year? And what are the effects on the business sector?  

‘Authenticity’ and Retail in Hoi An
In the newly published article ‘Retail in Places of World Heritage and Transition: Selling Clothes to Tourists in a Context of ‘Planned Authenticity’’ (Thomsen, 2018), I show how Hoi An’s transformation into a heritage tourism site has led to the emergence of a clothing retail sector that barely existed before. The sector plays a key role in the city’s contemporary tourism industry, and has come to appear as an ‘authentic’ part of the landscape of ancient buildings and monuments.

The paper shows how the creation of a clothing retail market was linked to a well-planned configuration of an ‘authentic’ Tailor City. It is to a large extent a reflection of interactions between the transitional Vietnamese economy and heritage listing. And it is reinforced by the urge of tourists to buy presumed place-specific products such as souvenirs or tailored clothes to preserve their memories of the place of Hoi An – regardless of how few links such products actually have to the place or its history and traditions.

A Retail Landscape of Opportunities and Challenges
So, why is this revitalization of Hoi An not merely impressive, but also in some ways problematic, not least seen from a development perspective?

Well, heritage designation did in many ways boost the city’s economy, making Hoi An one of Vietnam’s largest tourist attractions. And surely this came about due to extremely well targeted and impressive local planning in interplay with the World Heritage listing. It also created much needed jobs and prosperity linked to the tourism industry in the formerly poor agrarian area. Still, the revitalization of the city also represents a development that is highly uneven. It has made certain people more powerful, some activities and products more important and ‘authentic’, and some retailers better positioned in Hoi An’s tourism economy than others.

The paper shows how the opportunities of the clothing retailers vary significantly and are related to their status within a network of tourism stakeholders. A network that is intrinsically related to the ways that businesses and the state interact in Vietnam’s transitional economy. My intention here is not at all to point fingers at the Vietnamese authorities that cleverly utilized highly needed opportunities for economic development. What else should they have done? My intention is also not really to blame UNESCO that acted to preserve invaluable world heritage.

The impact on clothing retailers that are explored in much more detail in the paper was not easily foreseen. Yet, certain consequences could perhaps have be mitigated if international interventions like those of UNESCO are done with more caution and based on a deeper understanding of those local contexts and relations they tip into.

The example of Hoi An surely serves to remind us to critically assess and consider all kinds of effects of interventions locally. It reminds us of the importance of understanding better how different types of interventions – that undoubtedly are essential in their own right and done in the spirit of responsibility – play out differently in different places.

The full paper can be accessed via this temporarily free link: Thomsen, L. (2018). Retailing in places of World Heritage, transition and “planned authenticity.” Geoforum,91, 245–252.


Lotte Thomsen is Associate Professor of Business and Development at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. She holds a PhD in economic geography from Copenhagen University.

Pic by Qui Nguyen Khac, Pixabay.

Why it Doesn’t Matter that Facers are Annoying

By Jacob Schjødt.

You are walking down a high-traffic street in Copenhagen minding your own business. You’re thinking about the new pair of pants you’re about to buy. But then. About 30 meters ahead. You see something that immediately provokes a feeling of mild anxiety. You decide to take a detour, and walk to the very edge of the street. But it’s too late. You have already been spotted. A friendly looking young man with long hair, piercings and a big smile calls at you. ‘Is it me, he’s calling at?’ you ask yourself – hoping the answer to be ‘no’. But it is you. You have been caught. By a Facer.

What is a Facer?
In the most general sense, a Facer is a professional salesperson who sales products, services or memberships face-to-face. Facers are usually found on high-traffic shopping streets in large cities. Facers can take many forms and promote various causes, ranging from Scientology to insurance and memberships to charities. In this blog, I will only consider the latter, as you know them from Unicef, Amnesty, Care etc.

Why Facers are annoying
Usually when people talk about facers, they readily settle on the apparent fact that Facers are rather, if not very, annoying. And, in general, I agree with these people: Facers are annoying. They force you out of your comfort zone, they completely ignore your interests, and they ask you to consider something that is not at all related to your life. Facers force you into a situation in which you have to choose between two negative outcomes: 1) feel bad about not helping someone in need or 2) give away money that you had other plans with. Also, facers are fake. Facers pretend to like you, just to get your money. This creates an unfamiliar and unpleasant encounter in which it’s easy to feel that you have to be rude to maintain a sense of control. And the list goes on…

And Why it Doesn’t Matter That They Are
The situation is clear. Facers are super annoying. But to jump from this fact of reality to the conclusion, that one should not support their cause – or that it’s fine to talk ill of them – is a school book example of an ad hominem argument. Contrary to many other cases of ad hominem thinking, however, we can actually justify Facer’s annoying behaviour (assuming that we sympathize with the charity they are promoting).

A decent facer can sign up 3 new members on a 6 hour shift, and these member will donate around 75-150 DKK per month. A charity membership lasts about 1.5 years on average (an estimate), and a Facer makes around 120DKK per shift (depending on their salary model). If a Facer works 2 times per week, he/she will then make around 60.000 DKK in a year, and earn the charity well above 400.000 DKK. If you thought being annoying could save lives, wouldn’t you be annoying?

Beware of the Facer Fallacy
Our tendency to found moral arguments on unpleasant feelings is one of the most heavily supported claims in moral psychology (Haidt, 2001; 2012, Haidt et al., 2000; Greene, 2001; 2009; 2014). I think that Facer-bashing is a solid example thereof. I think that we too readily succumb to a ‘if the messenger is annoying, he cannot be on to something’, fallacy when it comes to Facers, and that we should make an effort to develop a more positive attitude towards these people and their work.

References

  • Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814–834. https://doi.org/10.1037//0033-295X.108.4.814

  • Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion …, (January), 1–508. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

  • Haidt, J., Bjorklund, F., & Murphy, S. (2000). Moral dumbfounding: When intuiton finds no reason. Working Paper. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

  • Greene, J. (2014). Moral Tribes. Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them, 300. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107415324.004

  • Greene, J. D., Sommerville, R. B., Nystrom, L. E., Darley, J. M., & Cohen, J. D. (2001). An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment. Science, 293(5537), 2105–2108. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1062872

  • Greene, J. D. (2009). Dual-process morality and the personal/impersonal distinction: A reply to McGuire, Langdon, Coltheart, and Mackenzie. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(3), 581–584. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2009.01.003

Jacob Schjødt is a Master student of Business Administration and Philosophy at CBS and Student assistant at CBS PRME. He has been responsible for organising the first Students for the Global Goals Festival at CBS on April 11, 2018. Follow CBS PRME on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates.

Pic by Daniel Lombraña González, Unsplash. Edited by BOS.

CSR: When High Aspirations Go Low – and How to Avoid it

By Peter Winkler & Michael Etter.

Managers’ public claims to improve CSR can have self-persuasive effects on corporations and their members. However, sometimes such “aspirational talk” can have the opposite effect. We explain why this may happen and how to avoid it.

“Green washing” or “smoke and mirrors” are labels that are often attached to the promises of managers who publicly claim to improve CSR. CBS researchers have challenged this sceptical view and argue that “aspirational talk” by managers, by raising public expectations and scrutiny, can make corporations and their members live up to these aspirations.

Sometimes, however, we argue that even the best-intended aspirations can have opposite, even detrimental effects. In the following we provide some reflections on the conditions, under which high CSR aspirations may “go low” and we suggest some ideas how to prevent such outcome.

From persuasive to provisional aspirations
Aspirations are helpful to direct and motivate employees. However, the last thing managers need on a mission towards substantial corporate responsibilisation are “blind believers”. Employees, who simply rely on a visionary manager and do not voice, where current business conduct impedes aspired CSR, will contribute little to change. Hence, we propose that managers should avoid getting too persuasive and creating “corporate cultism” around aspired CSR. Rather, managers should signal that visions are provisional and that employees, who critique contradictions between vision and reality, are the true driver of change.

From insistent to revisable aspirations
We suggest that managers should not stick too closely to their initial CSR aspirations. As innovation research tells us, insistence on initial ideas is never a good advisor to affect change. In contrary, managerial insistence on initial CSR aspirations may prevent that different ideas about future CSR by employees develop. Hence, managerial willingness to revise their aspirations in accordance to what employees consider responsible practice is crucial. After all, it is the employees who enact CSR in their daily work.

From broad to locally grounded aspirations
Aspirations, by nature, have a bias when it comes to envisioned scope and gravity. Dreams are larger than life. On a managerial mission towards better CSR, hence, the goal cannot, and maybe should not be to live up to managerial ideas. Rather, we suggest that corporate responsibilisation is about local grounding and depth of CSR in situated understandings and practices. In other words, CSR is less a question of reaching an aspired scope, but about winning depth and grounding in corporate practices.

Our ideas should by no means discourage managers to think big and speak out about CSR. However, we suggest that voicing CSR aspirations is only the first step. In a second step, managers might need to modify or sacrifice these aspirations for locally committed CSR practices.


Peter Winkler is a FH professor at the FHWien der WKW – University of Applied Sciences in Management and Communication, Vienna, and guest professor in organizational communication at the University of Salzburg, Austria. He is interested in sociological approaches to organizational and management communication research. In 2015/16, he was a research fellow at the Governing Responsible Business Research Environment at CBS.

Michael Etter, Ph.D., is a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Cass Business School, City University of London. He is interested in CSR, new ICTs, and social approval of firms. He tweets about media, technology, and business & society issues @MichaelEtter_.

Pic by Nick Fewings, Unsplash.

The Winners and Losers of Reward-based Crowdfunding

By Kristian Roed Nielsen.

Proponents of reward-based crowdfunding have touted its emergence as an alternative source of innovation finance as an exciting and democratizing event. This democratization is enabled via the unique blend of crowdsourcing (Poetz and Schreier 2012) and micro-financing (Morduch 1999). Fundraising is enabled by a widely dispersed community of users, whose interactions are facilitated by one or more platforms (e.g., IndieGoGo, Kickstarter, Kiva), trading “a small group of sophisticated investors” for “large audiences (the ‘crowd’)” (Belleflamme, Lambert, and Schwienbacher 2014:2). But how does the change in investors really change who is rewarded – basically who are the winners and losers of reward-based crowdfunding? It was with this question in mind that Caleb Gallemore, Kristjan Jespersen and I set out to follow the money and identify exactly where and who benefits from this new source of finance by analyzing data from the large US-based reward-based platform IndieGoGo.

Where does the (crowd) money go and why?
Firstly, and perhaps not surprisingly, it appears that it is the already affluent regions that benefit the most from crowdfunding activities, while less well-off areas still receive the short end of the stick. Clearly while crowdfunding may offer an extra opportunity for achieving financing, this does not offset other factors that play an important role in entrepreneurial success e.g. background, education and social network that favour areas already affluent.

More surprisingly we also found that increased competition – i.e. more campaigns – actually increase the likelihood of funding success. For each percentage increase in the number of campaigns in the same neighborhood, we estimate a decrease of about 11% in the odds that each of those campaigns will receive no funding pledges. Indicating the increased competition actually results in a net positive outcome where campaigns rather than leeching of one another, generate momentum for further success. This may be because of increased levels of visibility of crowdfunding activities as a whole at the local level. In other words, people living in areas with more crowdfunding activities might be more aware of the practice, increasing the pool of potential investors. Another possibility is that areas with high levels of crowdfunding activities might generate local communities that can share knowledge and advice about the process, improving the quality of local ventures.

Finally, and still undergoing analysis, we increasingly find that certain people are – naturally – more successful then others at achieving crowdfunding success. Witnessing that for each successful campaign launched by an individual or group the likelihood for future success increases dramatically – hence after five successful campaigns launched by a given person or group they have a near 100 pct. chance of future success. We are perhaps witnessing the birth of the professional crowdfunder.

Crowdfunding as the democratizing agent of innovation?
As money seems to coalesce around certain regions and individuals we have to wonder whether this trend will continue. Will we increasingly see certain regions and individuals benefitting while other less well-off or professional lose out? And what does this mean for crowdfunding as the democratizing agent of innovation? It offers opportunity for you and I to drive innovation, but that innovation process itself perhaps unsurprisingly still seems to cluster around certain regions and persons. While this is by no means the final word – this is still early day research of only one sample – these observations nevertheless complicate the idea of relying on crowdfunding as a new mechanism for economic development, poverty reduction, or social action. While crowdfunding certainly provides a new way to access capital, it may not provide such access equitably.


Kristian is Assistant Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication and Visiting Researcher at Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets – Stockholm School of Economics. His research explores the potential role that “the crowd” could play in enabling sustainable entrepreneurship and innovation. Follow him on Twitter @RoedNielsen.

Pic by olgavisavi, via Fotolia.

Is Social Media Redefining the Pursuit of Social Change?

By Daniel Lundgaard.

  • Social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion in the pursuit of social change
  • Though often criticized for the low quality of online deliberation, social media has become one of the primary avenues for diffusion of information, and increasingly an embedded part of our infrastructure
  • This calls for more research on how social media is changing various aspects of our lives and how we, through collaborative efforts, may foster change

Approximate Reading Time: 2-3 min.

Social Media for Social Change?
The impact of social media on the way we live our lives is undeniable. Recent statistics suggests that there are more than three billion active social media users. This makes social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter some of the most influential contexts regarding diffusion of information and they are, to a certain extent and as many of us would admit, emotionally contagious. This has created a digitalized world where social media has ‘given a voice to the people’, as civil society can use social media to express concerns. However, the debate about whether expressing concerns through social media leads to any substantial change is only just at the beginning.

What is your take on this? Is social media cultivating global collaboration and facilitating a pursuit for a better world, or instead disrupting the debate by cultivating polarization and fragmentation? – And are these two arguments necessarily mutually exclusive? Join me as we explore these two sides a bit further to understand how social media might be the key to pursuing social change.

The two sides of the debate
On the one side of the debate, we have the argument that social media facilitates constructive, powerful and impactful digitally networked action to pursue social change, as for example seen with the Arab Spring and recently the #Metoo movement. This follows the argument that these online platforms are evolving from a tool for social interaction towards becoming an embedded part of our infrastructure and some of the primary contexts for collaborative efforts.

On the other side, we have the argument that simply enabling collaborative efforts is not enough to promote social change, as social media is argued to be “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works” (former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. The challenge is that social media is heavily criticized for disrupting the pursuit for social change by cultivating echo-chambers, destructive polarization, fake-news and filter bubbles which hinder constructive online deliberation. This critique is further substantiated by critics arguing that social media cultivates non-committal activism (often referred to as slacktivism), which can thwart efforts to achieve social change, as ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ still can’t be eaten, and sharing or liking an image of a starving child doesn’t solve any issues by itself.

Why you shouldn’t disregard social media’s potential
The keywords here are “by itself”, because while the isolated ability for social media to cultivate social change is questioned, social media’s ability to connect millions of disparate actors and facilitate engagement in collaborative efforts cannot be denied. Social media has the innate ability to link individual contributions and facilitate large-scale collaboration that leads to a better outcome than what each individual could have achieved on his or her own as for example illustrated by how Change.org and SumOfUs.org use social media to fight social injustice and socially irresponsible corporations. Fostering polarization might very well be destructive, but it can also be constructive and facilitate social change by inspiring stronger commitment within specific groups, which might help ‘fuel’ collaborative efforts towards more substantial change.

These two sides are thus not necessarily mutually exclusive, as the coherent large-scale collaboration potentially benefit from emerging through more polarized communities that can give a ‘voice’ to otherwise squelched and ‘minor’ opinions, as seen with the #BlackLivesMatter-movement and the #Metoo-movement. The key to using social media in the pursuit for social change is therefore to harness the ability for social media to link disparate like-minded actors and facilitate coherent large-scale collaboration, as illustrated by the Occupy Wall Street-movement as well as the Tunisian uprising that sparked the Arab Spring. The ability to connect globally disparate actors based on perceived shared values and some form of collective mind-set is thus one of the primary ways that social media is changing the pursuit for social change.

Social media has become a battleground
These examples illuminate that social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion on the pursuit for social change. The important thing to note is that we are seeing the beginning of change. Implications of business practices are becoming a matter of civic concern, as evidenced by how consumers use social media to express their concerns and continuously attempt to influence corporate behavior in the pursuit for a better world. Social media is thus at the core of pursuing social change, as consumers can circumvent the traditional ‘gate-keeping’ function of traditional media and directly interact with organizations, which to a certain extent have empowered the digitalized civil society.

The critique of social media should however not be disregarded. Echo-chambers can be highly destructive, and social networking sites can create personalized ‘bubbles’ where your exposure to information is determined by the platform, as illustrated by the recent Facebook-data leak suggesting that data was harvested and exploited in an attempt to reshape political deliberation.

However, using the strengths of social media to unite in numbers has undoubtedly created new opportunities for us as consumers to affect public opinion towards an increased emphasis on social responsibility and social change. The next question is then how these collaborative efforts lead to substantial change, potentially by influencing the behavior of organizations, which is something I will continue to investigate in my research going forwards.


Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD fellow at the CBS Governing Responsible Business Research Environment. His research is mainly focused on the impact of the digital transformation, in particular, how social media has ‘given a voice to the people’ as a way to challenge norms and dominating discourses, and thereby changed our world and influenced the relationship between business and society.

Pic by Kym Ellis via Unsplash, edited by BOS.

Who is Responsible for Educating Students in the World’s Agenda on Sustainable Development, if not Universities?

By Louise Kofod Thomsen.

In September 2017, the CBS PRME office hosted a small SDG awareness event at Solbjerg Plads. At the event, the students were asked to answer a brief survey in order to assess their awareness of the SDGs. Out of the 108 students, 67,6 percent indicated that they did not know about the sustainable development goals. From the students who indicated that they knew about the goals, 82,9 % answered that they learned about them outside of CBS.

But let’s zoom out from CBS for a moment and look at some examples from Danish business society. The Danish Global Compact Network was launched on 24 October 2017. This marked an increased focus on the private sector’s crucial role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in Denmark. Another recent event was the launch of the SDG Accelerator, a DKK 3 billion initiative by the UNDP (UN Development Programme) in collaboration with Industriens Fond with the aim to empower 20 SMEs with competencies to work strategically with the SDGs.

Funded by the Carlsberg Foundation, UNLEASH was held for the first time in Aarhus in August 2017, and gathered 1000 talents (students and alumni) from around the world to spend 5 days developing concrete solutions to the SDGs. The list of SDG initiatives in corporate sector could go on, but this is just to state that the corporate sector is mobilizing, we are seeing more investments focusing on SDG activities and even the Danish Parliament now has a Cross-Political Network on the Global Goals.

There is no doubt that the SDGs will be a strong influencer on the strategies and activities of the above-mentioned stakeholders until 2030. In the light of these developments, can universities afford not to take action?

Students do not learn about the SDGs from CBS
It has been two years since the SDGs were launched, but when CBS PRME hosted the SDG awareness event in September 2017, that was the first time the SDGs were present at a public event at CBS. This is while the DANIDA (The Danish International Development Agency), in collaboration with the UNDP, has developed teaching material and platforms for Danish highschool students and teachers. Highschools now host theme weeks on the SDGs providing the students with knowledge, opinions and competencies related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

At university level, The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation (KADK) is now requiring all graduates to incorporate the SDGs into their final projects and DTU has established a team of 3 working closely with DTU top management on implementing the SDGs at the university.

While we should acknowledge the CBS courses including SDGs into curriculum and teaching, CBS needs to take a much stronger stand and acknowledge the SDGs as a crucial part of all business education. It is time we break down the belief that the SDGs are not part of e.g. finance and accounting and acknowledge that sustainable development are relevant for all discplines and practises if you want a sound and longlasting business.

Universities can benefit greatly from engaging in the SDGs
A report developed by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network in collaboration with Monash University, University of Wellington and Macquarie University argues that universities not only have a critical role to play in achieving the SDGs, but will also benefit greatly from doing so. Among the benefits, the report mentions an increased demand for SDG related education, a framework for demonstrating impact, accessing of new funding streams and collaboration with new external and internal partners. Evident of this is PRMEs upcoming SDG Day 11 April with 13 student organizations coordinating a full day of SDG activities and events all funded by Chr. Hansen, VELUX and Ørsted who got engaged when they heard “SDGs in a business context”.

Education is at the core of achieving the SDGs, and universities are with their teaching and research activities of fundamental importance to the implementation of the goals. The SDGs are a global framework and shared language and understanding of the world’s development with strong buy-ins from governments, business, civil society, foundations and other universities. CBS can benefit greatly from this support and use the SDG platform to position itself as a meaningful contributor in the areas of research and education.

Next step –  reach, engage  and educate the 67 percent of CBS students, who have never heard of the SDGs.


Louise Thomsen is Project Manager for CBS PRME and the VELUX Chair in Corporate Sustainability at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, CBS. Her areas of interest are sustainable consumption, innovation, student engagement, education and partnerships for sustainable development. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter

Pic by CBS PRME.

After #Metoo: Are We as Equal as We Would Like to Think?

By Sara Louise Muhr & Florence Villesèche.

The me too movement was founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke to help survivors of sexual violence, but it was not until after the public revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein in October 2017 that it went viral as a hashtag and ended up demonstrating the world-wide prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace.

It has been a shock to many how widespread sexual assault and harassment is – not least in a Scandinavian context, where the assumption of equality and respect long has been a foundational societal value. The massive amount of me too stories from Scandinavia – from all social classes, all occupations, all ages and ethnicities – have forced us to take another hard look at our beloved equality and ask the question ‘are men and women after all as equal as we would like to think?’.

Let’s look at some numbers…
And if we look at the numbers, we’re not… Just to take a few examples: Denmark has 6 % female CEOs in private companies, Denmark has a 16 % overall gender pay gap: 30 % among CEOs, 6,6 % among newly educated candidates, 2,6 % among our students. Around 50 % experience sexual harassment at work. Moreover, all studies point to the fact that women (and other minorities) are consistently evaluated lower than (white) men and women (and other minorities) systematically receive shorter, less-praise worthy letters of recommendation compared to (white) men.

What’s in a fight?
This means that we are not as equal as we would like to think. Some bodies fit the business world; some have to fight their way up and deal with a lot of resistance on the way. The difference here lies in the fight. Those women who make it to the top, are those who don’t give up. They are those who can take it, who have the power (or patience) to deal with or fight off the sexism and sexual harassment they are faced with on the way, every day.

Other bodies who fit the context of the business world, don’t have to fight. They just fit in. We might therefore on paper have equal opportunities, but some bodies meet resistance, some fit and do not meet resistance. As Sarah Ahmed argues in an essay about ‘Phenomenology of Whiteness’, if whiteness is our starting point – the default – then the black body is out of place. A black body is a black body; a white body is just a body. Similarly, the female body is out of place, not at home, not natural in a top management context. A female leader is a therefore always already a female leader; a male leader is just a leader. A female leader cannot escape her body.

The privilege of invisibility
This links to the privilege of invisibility, the privilege of ‘fitting’ the context, fitting the room. Karen Ashcraft refers to this as the glass slipper. Certain bodies fit certain occupations, whereas other bodies need to adapt and adjust and never really fit, always stand out. This is both the female top-manager and the male kindergarten teacher; the female fire-fighter or the male stay at home dad. The problem here, is not necessarily ‘not fitting the room’. Rather, the problem is the harassment, which is normalized against the ones not fitting the room. This is what the wide impact of the me too campaign has shown: The normalization and naturalisation of sexism against women at the workplace – from demeaning comments to actual sexual assault – which holds women back, keeps men in a positions of power; makes it necessary for women to fight for their right to a career, stick it out, deal with all the crap. It is a normalization of harassment and bullying of various kinds targeted the bodies that don’t fit in. And as Jaqueline Rose points out in a recent article in London Review of books, although sexism and harassment is often excused by being just for fun or a singular slip, it is ‘’never innocent, or a mere trifle, playful, or a ‘joke’‘.

The aggregation of micro aggressions
We therefore need to call out the sexism that sieves through every layer of our society and is weaved into our workplace cultures. Sexism is naturalized to a degree that many even feel entitled to it. Like the other day when one of us was presenting a diversity and inclusion plan to increase the number of female professors at our university, where a male participant in full honestly claimed that the low number of female professors was ‘natural’ as ‘it is scientifically proven that men are more intelligent than women’. Nobody said anything, nobody called out the injustice of such a remark, it was seen as his right to say this. The problem here is that nobody realises that micro aggressions like this – or remarks and behaviour which are even worse – are repeated every single day. And where they in and of themselves possibly can be seen as innocent and as jokes or as a remark from one radical person, together they construct the foundation of our work culture and in this way aggregated create systematic discrimination. The below quote from the everyday sexism project powerfully shows how everyday micro aggressions function in bulks:

Board member in my office: “how’s my little staff girl doing?” Same board member at an event: “it’s okay about your tits — I’m an ass man.” Another board member: “how’d a pretty girl like you get so smart?” Another board member, “I actually like that you’re so outspoken.” Another board member: “just type this up for me.” Sign on my way to work: “real men vote for Trump.” Bumper sticker on the car in front of me: “don’t be sexist — broads hate that!” At the supermarket, “gimme a smile, baby.” In the parking lot, “move it, you fat bitch.” New stories every day, every day, every day. (Website post, April 2017, Tags: Everywhere, Public space, Workplace. Themes Bodies; Experience; Resignation)

It is about time we wake up and realize that gender imbalance at management and board level, is not just because women rather want to stay at home or are less ambitious or don’t have what it takes. We have a problem with systematic discrimination in the form of every day micro aggressions – covering everything from demeaning comments to sexual harassment. And it is not a sustainable development. We do not use all the talent we have at hand when we systematically discourage parts of the population. Times up!


Sara Louise Muhr is Associate Professor at Copenhagen Business School. Her research focuses on critical perspectives on managerial identity, diversity, and HRM, and has appeared in journals such as Organization Studies, Organization; Gender, Work and OrganizationJournal of Business Ethics, Culture & Organization and Scandinavian Journal of Management.

Florence Villesèche is Assistant Professor at Copenhagen Business School. She is a Marie Curie Fellow and received an Emerald/EFMD Highly Commended Award for outstanding doctoral research. Her published work about diversity, identity and networks includes contributions to Human RelationsEuropean Management Review, Personnel Review, and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.

Pic by Kristopher Roller, Unsplash. Edited by BOS.

The Ethical Blindness of Corporate Sustainability

By Andreas Rasche.

Corporate sustainability (and related concepts like ESG and materiality) have been reduced to discussions around financial value. This makes these concepts “ethically blind”. We are in need of a resurgence of business ethics, otherwise the endless discussions of the “business case” for sustainability will turn out to be the error at the heart of true leadership for sustainable business practices.

My LinkedIn and Facebook feeds are filled with great stories about how well corporate sustainability aligns with financial measures (be it revenue, profit or another metric). Sustainability practitioners seem to love these research findings. No one can blame them. They are the ones who need to “sell” sustainability efforts to top management, and having evidence that sustainability aligns well with financial goals makes this task a lot easier. I do not necessarily doubt these findings, although any researcher will tell you that results always depend on how a study is built, and also that correlation and causation are often confused in these studies.

What I am concerned about is that research findings are turned into normative prescriptions without much reflection: just because some research finds that corporate sustainability efforts support the financial bottom line of a company, we should not conclude that these efforts should only be undertaken whenever they support the financial bottom line. Corporate sustainability is most urgently needed whenever it does not support the financial bottom line. In those situations, the decision for sustainability is a tough one; it requires courage and, in many cases, ethical reflection.

Future thinking, writing, and speaking about corporate sustainability needs to much better balance the financial gains and the moral dilemmas attached to relevant issues. Otherwise, we risk to become ethically blind. Such blindness is often referred to as the “inability of a decision maker to see the ethical dimension of a decision at stake.” (Palazzo et al., 2012: 325) Practitioners’ and academics’ obsessions with the business case has clearly diminished our ability to turn a problem/issue into a case for moral reflection and imagination.

A good example are materiality assessments. These assessments rank ESG issues according to their influence on a firm’s strategy (incl. financial bottom line) and the interest of the firm’s stakeholders in these issues. The moral need to address an issue, because it is the right thing to do, falls off the agenda. Corporate sustainability becomes a pick and choose exercise, which corporations often frame in whatever way they please.

The field, which we nowadays refer to as corporate sustainability (incl. ESG and materiality etc.), started out with discussions around the moral responsibility of businessmen. Back then the focus was, among other things, on how moral dilemmas can be resolved. I am not saying these are the good old times. But it is clear that the discourse has not only changed label (from ethics to responsibility to sustainability), but also that this very discourse has been hijacked by the belief that corporate sustainability is only a worthwhile endeavour whenever it creates financial value for a company.

All of this is not to say that corporations should not financially profit from their corporate sustainability efforts. It is also not to say that managerial tools like materiality assessment are completely useless – they can be of great help. However, it is to say that we cannot and should not reduce discussions around sustainability to a single dimension: be it the financial one, the moral one, or any other one. Corporate sustainability issues are by design multi-faceted, and so must be our thinking about them.

Former CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, once famously declared:

On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy …your main constituencies are employees, your customers and your products” (quoted in Moon, 2014, p. 106)

We should extend this argument to the business case for sustainability. The idea of a business case itself is a stupid one; such a case should never be the sole motivation of engaging in corporate sustainability, although it can be an outcome of such engagement.

I prefer morally informed decisions. But it is getting harder to convince practitioners and academics that there is more to corporate sustainability than the financial bottom line. Having a business case for corporate sustainability should never be a precondition for addressing an issue or a problem. Otherwise, we move towards moral mediocrity…


Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at Copenhagen Business School and Director of CBS’s World-Class Research Environment “Governing Responsible Business”. He is also Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. Andreas can be reached at: ar.msc@cbs.dk and @RascheAndreas. More at: http://www.arasche.com

Sources:
Moon, J. (2014). Corporate Social Responsibility: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford et al.: Oxford University Press.
Palazzo, G., Krings, F., & Hoffrage, U. (2012). Ethical Blindness. Journal of Business Ethics, 109(3), 323–338.

Pic by Caleb Jones, Unsplash.