Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Trump’s first 100 days have triggered political activism among corporate America

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📥  Business and society, Environment, Human rights, Policy

washington-protest-small

 

President Trump has introduced a flurry of legislation in his first 100 days. Companies and their CEOs are responding by taking stands on political issues in ways rarely seen before. Andrew Crane asks whether this could end up transforming the way we think about corporate responsibility.

President Trump’s first 100 days have not been good for the planet. While the question of whether he will fulfil his campaign promise of rolling back the US’s commitment on the Paris climate deal is still to be settled, he has stuffed his cabinet with climate change sceptics. Most notably, the appointment of Scott Pruitt to head up the US Environmental Protection Agency met with a storm of criticism. This was hardly surprising given his ties with the energy industry, his denial of man-made climate change, and a long history of fighting the very agency he has been appointed to lead.

Trump and his cabinet have not been slow in rolling back environmental regulation introduced during the Obama presidency. As part of an effort to revive the coal industry, an executive order last month started unravelling Obama’s clean power plan (CPP). As the New York Times reported, the order effectively ceded the US’s leadership in addressing climate change and turned “denials of climate change into national policy”.

While such developments were hardly unexpected, what has been interesting has been the corporate response. Last November, nearly 400 US companies including Nike, Levis Strauss and Starbucks demanded that he leave in place low-emissions policies. In the wake of the CPP announcements in March many companies again took a public stand against the policy reversal. For example, Mars Inc. expressed disappointment at the policy change while tech companies including Apple, Amazon and Microsoft signed a joint statement supporting the CPP.

It is rare to hear companies, and US companies in particular, arguing to keep regulation. They are also usually unwilling to take explicit political stands in the public eye, preferring to use lobbying and more covert forms of political influence to sway governments to act in their interests. But the corporate response to the climate rollback seems to be part of a broader change of heart among senior executives to take public positions against what they see as undesirable policy shifts.

This change was first noticeable following Trump’s immigration ban back in January that saw wholesale restrictions on refugees and others from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. As Business Insider reports, “Before the day was over, Facebook's CEO had published a post denouncing the order. By the end of the weekend, Starbucks' CEO had outlined plans to hire 10,000 refugees. And, within a week, Uber's CEO had quit Trump's economic team as thousands deleted their accounts with the ride-hailing app.”

The response by corporate America to the immigration ban was significant and widespread. Rather than the usual caution about taking a political stand on a hot button issue, companies as diverse as Coca Cola, Google, and Ford came out against the policy. The tech industry’s response gained a lot of attention, not only because high profile companies and their leaders such as Sergey Brin at Google actively spoke out against the executive order, but also because regular tech industry employees staged walkouts and protests rarely seen before in the industry. For many in tech, the Atlantic reported, this was the first time they had taken part in political activism in their lives.

 

company-reaction-immigration-ban

 

So what does all this mean? There are a number of ways of looking at this, but the big change for me is that US companies are starting to acknowledge a meaningful role for themselves as explicit political actors. In the past, few company executives would ever admit that their actions were in any way political. “We don’t do politics” was the mantra, despite the billions of dollars spent on lobbying and trying to buy influence in Washington. However, as companies have more openly started addressing issues traditionally thought of as government responsibilities – protecting human rights, providing public goods, enforcing social and environmental standards, and the like – the cloak has gradually slipped.

Scholars of corporate responsibility such as myself have been analysing these developments over the past couple of decades, labelling these new corporate behaviours variously as “corporate citizenship”, “political CSR”, or “private governance”. So the response by corporate America to Trump’s first 100 days is not so much a sudden change in their core corporate responsibility behaviours, more a new found willingness to start acknowledging what has been increasingly apparent all along: corporations do indeed play an explicitly political role.

Acknowledging something is the first step to dealing with it. And the role of business in politics is something that we certainly do need to address as a matter of urgency. Most business leaders may not be completely comfortable yet with admitting their political role, but many do want to start thinking more seriously about their impact on the world, as Mark Zuckerberg’s recent 6,000 word manifesto exemplifies. Further radical announcements from the Trump administration are likely to incite yet more corporate political activism. So while we may not be able to thank President Trump for his impact on the planet, he may yet be responsible for a breakthrough moment in companies’ understandings of their changing role in society.

Header image by Ted Eytan

 

How too much information can stop people from being sustainable consumers

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📥  Consumers, Environment

recycle

 

Writing for the Conversation, Dr Peter Nuttall and Prof Avi Shankar consider the challenges of becoming a "sustainable consumer".

Most people would agree that living more sustainably is something to strive for. With £13bn worth of food being wasted each year in the UK and global temperature records being broken every three years, being green is more important than ever. But it’s a lot easier said than done. The Conversation

For the vast majority, trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle is restricted to the weekly recycling of bottles, paper, plastics and food waste. And consuming less also represents a tricky issue for governments when consuming more this year than last year drives economic growth.

An enduring issue remains: what actually is “sustainability” and what does “consuming sustainably” mean in the first place? As David Harvey has pointed out, it can mean almost anything people want it to mean.

In its simplest form, though, sustainable consumption asks that people consider the impact their choices (when it comes to buying things or using energy) will have on future generations’ ability to make their choices. Sadly, the likelihood of the majority acting in this way is small. Most of their everyday consumption choices are made habitually or emotionally and not rationally. As Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman noted, people are prone to think fast, driven by our habits and intuitions – and not slowly or thoughtfully.

Information overload

So: how can governments, NGOs – even businesses themselves – encourage people to consume in a more sustainable manner? Currently, the dominant logic is to provide people with more information so they can make more informed decisions about what they spend their money on.

While this may succeed for a minority, in this view information is assumed to be a precursor to changing people’s attitudes and – in due course – their behaviour. The problem is that there is little evidence that information provision does this at all.

It’s also problematic, as people suffer from information overload. Too much information can cause confusion and, if it’s not relevant to them, people will simply ignore it.

However, even people who’ve taken on board the sustainability message find difficulty in practising it. This finding emerged from data collected by one of our former PhD students Cristina Longo (now a researcher at the University of Lille’s business school). To understand the trials and tribulations of trying to live more sustainably, Longo conducted an ethnographic study and embedded herself in the local Transition Network community, a movement that promotes sustainable living.

She spent two years hanging out with people already highly knowledgeable and committed to living a sustainable lifestyle. She attended talks and meetings, and participated in guerrilla gardening, taking care of neglected public spaces, before interviewing members of the community.

Our analysis of these interviews highlighted some major problems when it comes to living out sustainable values – even when you’ve got the best intentions. The paradox of sustainable consumption appears to be that the more you are aware of the issues at stake, the harder you find it to actually live out your values.

Dilemma, tension, paralysis

The more knowledgeable people become with regard to the myriad issues surrounding sustainability, the more this knowledge becomes a source of dilemma. For example, Tessa, a member of the Transition Network with a longstanding interest and understanding of sustainability issues, told us of her “green beans from Kenya dilemma”. For her, green beans from Kenya were definitely a no-no, because of the food miles incurred in flying the beans over. However, she found the clarity she had on this position was undermined when she learned of the social and economic benefits of growing green beans for the local Kenyan farmers.

Also, for those already committed to sustainability ideals, not being able to live up to them becomes a source of considerable tension. Veronica, for example, recounted a story about a talk she’d given on reducing carbon footprints. Afterwards, she drove past a family who’d been at the meeting, who were cycling. Being confronted with not practising what she was preaching was very disconcerting for her. Irene, too, wants to eat locally sourced organic food whenever possible, but on her limited budget finds it expensive to do so. This existential tension that both Veronica and Irene experience is in large part self-inflicted.

We’ve found that the more knowledgeable people become, the more it can result in paralysis or the inability to act on one’s sustainability ideals or goals. One informant Kate described a knowledge tipping point. As she accumulated more and more knowledge that she attempted to put into practice, she also experienced an awareness that her efforts would ultimately be unsustainable. Judith experienced something similar too but saw her failure – in her case to not buy anything shipped over from China – as part of an overall learning process.

Clearly, being a sustainable consumer is problematic and embedding sustainable ideals into everyday life is fraught with difficulties. Until society’s obsession with growth is addressed at a much wider level, sustainable consumption remains a fantasy.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image: Recycle by Mike

 

Business students need a new perspective not a new framework

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📥  Business and society, Education

business-men

 

Two current students on the University of Bath’s MSc in Sustainability and Management, Sanum Jain and Elliot Johnston, discuss the impact that business ethics and sustainability modules have had on their business education. They pose the question: can we talk about business ethics being as important as business economics as part of a management degree?

Management students have the opportunity to sit an array of compulsory and elective courses during their time at business school. As sustainability students, the business ethics module was a mandatory requirement for us, whilst few traditional management students saw this course as an attractive elective. However, it soon became apparent that this course would shape the way we navigate business in a way we think is important for every management student, regardless of specialism.

We became well-versed in the theories of business ethics and came to understand how sustainability needs to be considered as integral to strategy rather than a side-lined marketing tool. Furthermore, we were exposed to the factors that could affect our ethical decision making as agents within a company. Now we field questions about profit making in the face of sustainability limitations, as if we are living in a world where ethical decision making and profit making are mutually exclusive. Our peers in other classes may often label us ‘idealists’ for voicing a perspective we have gained through business ethics. We can't help but wonder if this would be the case if business ethics was compulsory across the School.

Within the first week of studying at Bath, we were introduced to a variety of frameworks upon which we were to base our understanding of business. Most notably, in business economics, we were introduced to Michael Porter’s Five Forces Framework and his Theory of Competitive Advantage. The theory of competitive advantage teaches students about low cost strategies and product differentiation strategies to maintain a focus on profit maximisation, with the end goal of achieving a larger market share. This theory provided the backbone of business strategy from which many other concepts have branched. But not for us.

Our module in business ethics introduced us to a deeper perspective, challenged us to ask more existential questions about business and to understand the ‘why and the how’ behind profit. However, this was not a prescriptive course. We weren’t provided with a specific framework to follow. We engaged in case studies that explored the actions of individuals just like us who had behaved unethically for the benefit of their employer. We delved into the problems created by globalisation, analysed the responsibilities of corporations in the modern world, and looked at the theories we might use to understand how complex ethical problems can be approached in a business environment.

We didn’t just gain a perspective through which to view the business world. Business ethics added a dynamic to the content we were introduced to in our other courses. We were encouraged to question our own values and the way we might view decision making in other realms such as marketing and operations. Furthermore, it led us to understand who we are personally, in relation to the corporations who may hire us in the future.

As sustainability students, we are not alone in our way of thinking. Indeed, Michael Porter himself is now an advocate for sustainable development created through business. In his recent TED talk, he called for commercial organisations to address social issues with alternative business models in order to create “shared value”. At the same time, he called competitive advantage seeking differentiation factors “trivial” in the face of greater challenges.

“Shared value is capitalism, but it's a higher kind of capitalism”, Porter said. “It's capitalism as it was ultimately meant to be, meeting important needs, not incrementally competing for trivial differences in product attributes and market share. Shared value is when we can create social value and economic value simultaneously.”

This isn’t a debate as to which framework should be taught in lieu of another. Michael Porter’s business theories are undoubtedly imperative to a management student’s education. However, even Porter recognises the need to change the perspective from which we learn and operate. Knowing what we know, it is the responsibility of business schools to ensure that the next generation of the workforce are equipped to tackle the ethical challenges they might face. We know from research conducted in our own School that this is starting to happen, but more could be done. Conventional management frameworks should be taught through the perspective of business ethics in order to create managers of the future who can successfully contribute to a sustainable world.

Image: businessmen by David Drexler

Are future managers learning enough about sustainability?

📥  Business and society, Education

ethics

 

While many business schools claim to be incorporating concepts of sustainability and responsibility within their teaching programmes, they are not always effective in doing so.  In an era where failing to walk the talk carries reputational risks, Annie Snelson-Powell asks what determines whether or not business schools make good on their promises to deliver responsible management education?

A question increasingly asked by society and scholars alike is whether business schools are really doing enough to prepare future managers for the social and environmental challenges facing society today.  Are they merely trumpeting empty rhetoric that seemingly supports these ideas, but delivering little in the way of change?  It is a long-held concern that business schools are failing in delivering on their responsibilities in this regard.  New challenges to business school legitimacy ensue with each corporate scandal, not least following the most recent financial crisis where critics suggested that self-serving, business school-educated managers put profits and self-interest ahead of longer-term responsibilities to their employees, stakeholders and the global economy.

Business schools have not ignored these concerns. They have in ever-increasing numbers pledged to address sustainability and social responsibility by committing to delivering responsible management education.  As illustrated by the growing list of signatories to the UN’s Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), hundreds of business schools publicly commit to this agenda. Management education, as envisioned by PRME, should be designed to equip future managers to do the right thing when they enter the world of business.  Alongside the traditional corporate objectives, they should be ready to navigate matters of inclusion, sustainability and social responsibility.

However alongside this evident progress come questions over the genuineness of these public claims, given the complexity the associated change implies.  Integrating sustainability and responsibility as core concepts in business schools involves reconciling an underlying tension. To engage with sustainability means thinking of corporate strategy in a way that balances financial concerns with social and environmental issues and impacts: an agenda seemingly at odds with the traditional theories taught in business schools which have historically promoted a profits-first ideology.

This setting provides the context for our research which sought to establish what happens next once commitments like PRME are made.  We tried to identify those features of business schools which are significant in determining whether these promises end up in meaningful activity, or remain the kind of window-dressing that stakeholders are increasingly suspicious of.

We focused on UK business schools and carried out interviews with 68 Deans as well as studying data on rankings and financial performance.  The analysis  revealed that while the presence of sustainability/CSR expertise within the faculty was important, business schools do not require substantial financial resources if they are to make good on their commitment to incorporate sustainability into their teaching in a meaningful way.  Since earlier work suggests that financial resources are a barrier, this is an intriguing and encouraging finding. It suggests business schools across the spectrum of financial means have the ability to meaningfully engage with sustainability through their teaching.

The study also looked at business school prestige and revealed a link between the more prestigious schools and successful implementation.  Since the link was not due to financial resources, it may instead suggest that the enhanced expectation and scrutiny bestowed on those with high prestige creates an impetus to walk the talk.  The implication of these findings provides grounds for hope, since the actions of the prestigious serve as an example to other business schools about how to behave. If prestigious business schools readily engage with sustainability, others may follow.

These findings are important for all business schools wishing to avoid the potential reputational risks associated with claims that do not tally with a fulsome engagement in practice. The insight that it is the expertise of faculty that is critical to efforts to implement sustainability, as opposed to substantial financial resources, means that all business schools are capable of mitigating these risks. This could be by considering how they prioritise specialist sustainability/CSR skills in their recruitment strategies or by developing more of this expertise in-house amongst existing faculty.

An Economist article featuring this research argued that the view of business school graduates as Gordon Gekkos is outdated.  Certainly our findings support a more optimistic view of business schools, which are in many instances making progress in walking the talk on their sustainability commitments and approaching the agenda in a genuine way.  Despite these initial advances, few schools are all the way there: sustainability and responsibility in management education is a continuing challenge, and much work remains to be done.  However our research should serve as encouragement that by seeking to introduce sustainability into the skill-base of business school faculty, schools will be moving in the right direction and playing their part in the solution rather than the problem.

The findings of the study will also be presented at a University of Bath School of Management conference later this month organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University of Bath: ‘The contribution of business schools to inclusive development in Africa and Europe’.

Image by Nic Delves-Broughton

 

Brexit likely to increase modern slavery in the UK

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📥  Brexit, Modern slavery, Policy, Supply chains

Migrant Workers by Bread for the World

 

Theresa May’s historic signing of Article 50 looks set to be her lasting legacy as Prime Minister. Unfortunately, it is also likely to derail her other signature policy on modern slavery. Our research suggests Brexit could increase modern slavery in the UK.

The signing of Article 50 marks the point of no return for the UK’s exit from the European Union. Although she inherited the Brexit decision, Theresa May’s political legacy will stand and fall on how successfully she manages to steer the country through the turmoil.

Without a doubt, Article 50 will bring untold changes to the political, economic and cultural landscape of the country. One change that will certainly be high on May’s radar is its effect on modern slavery in the UK.

Modern slavery has been May’s signature policy since she was Home Secretary. She introduced the landmark Modern Slavery Act in 2015 prior to becoming PM, and has since continued to champion the cause. In announcing a ramping up of Government efforts to improve enforcement last year, she identified modern slavery as “the great human rights issue of our time” and heralded the UK as leading the way in defeating it.

While the Act is far from perfect, it has certainly focused increased attention and resources on modern slavery. Prosecution levels also appear to be improving. This was most recently illustrated by the sentencing of the Markowski brothers to six years in prison for trafficking and then exploiting 18 people from Poland, who they brought to the UK to work in a Sports Direct warehouse.

The problem is, despite the advances gradually being made in addressing modern slavery in the UK, the signing of Article 50 is likely to worsen the problem. As May is probably acutely aware (but is so far not saying), Brexit may well undermine the progress she has made to date. It is a case of two steps forward, one step back.

According to research I conducted with an international team of colleagues looking at forced labour in the UK (initially funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), four main problems are evident.

1.      Brexit will increase the demand for modern slavery

The Brexit vote has already created uncertainty among the legions of poorly paid, but legal migrant workers from Eastern Europe that are employed in the UK’s low wage economy. Signing Article 50 may ultimately help stem the flow of workers into the country as intended. But who is going to replace them? Domestic workers will fill some of the gaps but companies are unlikely to be willing to improve wages and conditions to attract them in sufficient numbers. So there will be greater opportunities for unscrupulous middlemen to traffic in workers from overseas or prey on vulnerable UK citizens to force them into exploitative situations. Forced labour flourishes where local, low skilled labour is in short supply.

2.      Brexit will facilitate exploitation

Modern slavery often occurs when workers do not fully understand their legal rights and status. Our research uncovered various examples of migrant workers being exploited because those exploiting them misled them into the belief that they were working illegally. Perpetrators would also wait for or deliberately engineer changes in workers’ immigration status in order to exploit them. The point is that Brexit will create a period of increased uncertainty around legal status that will be a significant boon to exploiters.

3.      Brexit will increase the supply of modern slavery

Modern slavery occurs when people are vulnerable, either because of legal status, poverty, mental health, or drug and alcohol problems. In our research, the most common victims were those from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria who, at the time, were able to enter the country but were unable to work legally. This vulnerability was exploited by perpetrators who were able to coerce them into working in highly exploitative situations. The more the UK puts up barriers to people entering the country legally, the higher the risk of traffickers bringing them in illegally and pushing them into debt. Once workers are in debt, perpetrators are adept at escalating their indebtedness and creating situations of debt bondage.

4.      Brexit will turn victims into criminals

Our research found that many victims of forced labour in the UK were prosecuted under immigration offences rather than being identified as victims. The Modern Slavery Act has improved this situation but as the UK moves towards Brexit, the chances of this happening will increase because policing around immigration status is likely to intensify far more than around modern slavery.

May claims that under her leadership, “Britain will once again lead the way in defeating modern slavery”. But the bottom line is that by triggering Brexit, May will be left trying to solve a problem that she is helping create.

Image: Migrant Workers by Bread for the World

Why don’t people associate WWF with Earth Hour? The battle between ‘panda’ and ‘lights out’

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📥  Branding, Consumers, Environment, Giving

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Dr Zoe Lee asks how a strong brand identity can help charities who increasingly must satisfy both social and environmental goals and fundraising needs.

Recently I asked my postgraduate students if they knew about Earth Hour. Most of them nodded proudly and smiled. But when I asked if they knew who organised it, not many identified World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Some even mentioned Greenpeace. So why don’t they identify Earth Hour with WWF, and how could WWF use Earth Hour more effectively to elevate and energise its brand?

Earth Hour’s success is unquestionable. It has been labelled the largest grassroots social movement on earth, and is one of the world’s fastest growing brands. The initial brief was about how WWF could inspire people to take action on global warming without using fear. A simple idea was born – asking people to switch off the lights for one hour as a symbolic stand. Since then, many landmarks around the world have taken part, including the Eiffel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and Buckingham Palace.

WWF is still deeply stereotyped as cute, cuddly and warm due to its iconic panda image. Earth Hour, on the other hand, continues to gain global recognition, and could be perceived as more competent and hard hitting due to its idea of taking action now. But does this matter to consumers or supporters?

Perhaps not directly. A classic text from Levy and Gardner, “The Product and the Brand”, was a revelation for the branding world. They made explicit for the first time that every advertisement must be considered as a contribution to the complex symbol of brand image – as part of the long-term investment in the reputation of brand. Both the panda and lights off images are powerful and different, yet they are not directly related. Brand managers must accept that consumers see a brand in totality, and consumers and other stakeholders play a huge role in shaping brand meaning. The two different personalities and tones of voice can cause confusion if there is no compelling reason to link them together over time.

In addition to consumer confusions, firms stereotyped as competent are more likely to increase buying behaviour when compared to firms stereotyped as warm. Consumers have greater admiration for firms with high levels of competence and warmth.  This may suggest some clear benefits for WWF to leverage some of the hard hitting and competent identity of the Earth Hour initiative.

Charities usually take a narrow approach to branding – managing external perceptions in return for fundraising success. In contrast, an emerging paradigm recognises brand as a strategic tool to achieve greater change and social impact. Dan Pallotta noted that too many charities are rewarded for how little they spend – not for what they get done. Using donations to fund advertising to raise awareness or change perception is still deeply frowned upon. We need to rethink the role of marketing and advertising and focus on how to start rewarding charities for their accomplishments despite a high marketing spend.

 

Macmillan Cancer Support is a great example of a charity that now uses its brand in a strategic way;  perhaps even behaving like a business by leveraging its warmth and increasing the perception of competency by implementing metrics and return on investments. They engaged in an organisational wide change process to shift negative perceptions of their iconic image, the Macmillan nurse. Although the association with nurses has been perceived as warm and instrumental to fundraising, over time they are perceived negatively as ‘angels of death’. And with a changing cancer story, Macmillan needed to change and transform as a ‘life force’ for cancer survivors. Hence, they have a new brand name and a ‘can do’ attitude to improve the lives of everyone affected by cancer. Fundraising increased by £26 million within two years of this change, and the charity was awarded The Marketing Society’s Brand of the Year in 2014.

A powerful charity brand can help to achieve social as well as fundraising goals, and we should be more open-minded about the role played by brand in fulfilling a charity’s purpose. WWF made remarkable progress when giant pandas were downgraded from ‘Endangered’ to ‘Vulnerable’. For this year’s Earth Hour, there is an effort to incorporate the giant panda image with the #pass the panda initiative, but in a rather ‘soft’ way. Following in Macmillan’s footsteps, WWF could potentially be much bolder in claiming Earth Hour as a WWF project, and one they are very proud of. To make the most of Earth Hour's success, and use the public buy-in to support its main charity objectives, WWF needs to find a coherent message that ties both brands together, because consumers are more likely to believe something when they see it as credible, authentic and relevant to them.

Image: Earth Hour 2016 Berlin by Phossil

 

What does our appetite for wearable tech say about our desire for choice?

  

📥  Consumers, Technology

fitbit

 

In 2015, consumers bought three million wearable fitness trackers in the United Kingdom alone. Most of this technology is benign, marketed as a tool to inform people of their physical activity. But there is also a growing consumer appetite for technologies that take control of their lives and place limits on the choices available to them. In this post, Dr Tim Hill asks what is driving consumers’ appetite for this new genre of technology?

2017’s World Consumer Rights Day calls attention to how consumers are yet to trust the products and services born out of the technologically-driven digital economy. But this is only half the picture when it comes to understanding our changing relationship with technology. Because while some consumers may struggle to trust services such as Uber, other consumers seek out technology to make decisions for them and to take control of their lives.

As sociologist William Davies has claimed, these desires fuel the growth of ‘predictive shopping’, which is where goods are delivered to consumers’ homes based on what they have bought before, rather than through an expressed choice to purchase. A growing genre of wearable technology is also illustrative of consumers’ growing appetite for innovations that make personal decisions and place limits on their lives.

When we think of wearable technology, our minds probably turn to those fitness devices used to track and monitor our physical activity. But is all wearable technology as benign as the devices which tell us the number of steps we take each day? No, not all. Take, for instance, the wristband that administers an electric shock of up to 340 volts to the wearer when they succumb to bad habits, the hope being that the threat of physical punishment will ensure we shake unwanted behaviours. Similarly, another piece of software punishes you financially if you fail to keep to your goals.

On the one hand, these technologies could be treated as just another tool - albeit masochistic ones - to ensure we achieve our New Year’s resolutions. On the other, the desire for this genre of technology reveals how consumers are looking for ways to relinquish freedom of choice, out-sourcing decision making and granting responsibility to technologies that, to some extent, take control of their lives.

The growing popularity of technologies that limit the options available to us and constrain our capacity to exercise choice is significant when we consider the way in which autonomy, liberation and the freedom to express oneself has been the great boast of advanced economies. If it’s possible to treat these technologies as evidence of a new appetite for devices that dominate, suppress and limit, a necessary question to ask is: where does this growing desire for one’s own domination come from?

Doug Holt chronicles a key moment in the transformation of marketing in 1950s America. Influenced by books such as William H. White's The Organization Man, consumers rallied against paternalistic marketing techniques that directed consumers as to how they should live. Consumers were aggrieved that marketing firms were providing oppressive blueprints for how they should spend their income while simultaneously asserting they had the freedom to choose. The most successful brands in the decades that followed - Volkswagen, Jack Daniels, Nike - provided platforms for consumers to pursue this newfound desire for self-expression and individuality.

Not much has changed. From organisations that work out new ways to offer us personalised products and services on the assumption that we wish to reflect our individuality in everything we purchase, to social media platforms asking us express to others what is on our mind, the obligation that we invest our sense of self into everything we consume has never been as dominant. But is this abundance of opportunity to self-express healthy?

Research shows perhaps not. Psychologist Roy Baumeister argues there are pressures that come with not only having a unique sense of self but also being compelled to express it. This is because being required to make decisions that invite you to reveal your ‘true self’ can result in a crippling sense of vulnerability, self-awareness and anxiety, since we are worried about maintaining a favourable public image. If you have ever planned your own wedding, you’ll appreciate how taxing and stressful these activities can be.  Prosecco or Champagne? Meat or fish? The ways in which we can express who we are to others are apparently endless.

The anxiety that arises out of these situations can result in the strange circumstance where you are happy to pay others to take control and make the most personal decisions for you. What this illustrates is Baumeister’s central point: that when continually confronted with the command to express who we are, trying to maintain a unique identity can become stressful. And in response, people derive great pleasure in handing control over to others, even if this means freedom is constrained and choices are limited.

From this perspective, the growing appetite for this genre of technology that limits freedom and constrains the choices available to us begins to make sense. For consumers burdened by organisations’ ceaseless command to self-express, technologies that promise to limit, constrain, and dominate appear to relieve that burden. While we may boast of the abundance of choice and freedom available to us, the role of this new genre of technology in today’s consumer society is not so much to do with facilitating freedom, but more with helping us to escape it.

Image: Fitbit by BTNHD Production

Why women and men too easily accept the gender pay gap

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📥  Gender equality, Policy

gender-pay-gap-1

 

Writing for the Conversation, Dr Chris Dawson considers whether differences in psychology account for the gender pay gap.

 Large employers in the UK will have to publish from April annual data on their gender pay and bonuses gaps. While under the Equal Pay Act it is illegal to pay men and women differently for doing the same job, figures from the Office for National Statistics puts the gender pay gap for full-time employees in 2016 at 9.4% in the UK. The reasons for this substantial difference in earnings are often attributed to occupational segregation by gender, driven by differences in education, accumulated experience and discrimination. The Conversation

But recent research has instead focused on underlying gender differences in preferences and psychological attributes which may affect choice of work, and therefore help to explain the gender pay gap.

For instance, women may seek different career paths and value aspects of employment such as flexibility and a pleasant working environment instead of focusing directly on pay. On the whole, women tend also to be more risk averse than men and have lower preferences for competitive situations which can both lead to career choices with lower earnings than men.

So psychology seems to provide a fruitful area for explaining the gender pay gap. The focus of my own research into this subject is a particularly pertinent psychological trait, that of optimism. By optimism, I specifically mean systematically biased beliefs in the probability of doing well.

Psychologists have documented our tendency to view ourselves in implausibly positive ways and our absurd belief that our future will be better than the evidence of the present can possibly justify. However, when it comes to assessing our competence, our ability and our future prosperity, men really do overestimate themselves while women are typically more pessimistic. I found that this difference between men and women can really matter in matters of employment.

Optimism affects the satisfaction we get from our pay. While we know that women face a substantial wage penalty compared to men, they also tend to be more generally satisfied with their work and income. This is a counter-intuitive situation. We would expect those who get paid the most (men) to be the most satisfied. Here is where optimism, our biased perception of the future comes into play. The satisfaction we gain from our wages is to some extent based upon our expectations. Receiving £10 when you are expecting £5 feels pleasing. But receiving £10 when you are expecting £20 feels disappointing.

If women are predisposed to underestimating themselves and their labour market prospects, as my study finds, they will continue, on the whole, to be satisfied with such pay inequality. This is a worrying state of affairs. We tend to search for new jobs when we feel that some aspect of our current occupation, such as pay, can be improved upon. But if we are satisfied, we stay in that job, we don’t negotiate and we don’t ask for that promotion.

Battle of the sexes

For men it’s the opposite story. They constantly overestimate themselves, widening their vulnerability to inevitable disappointment. Disappointed workers negotiate, they always ask for promotions and are happy to switch employers to improve upon aspects of their jobs which they feel can be bettered.

So optimism pays off in the labour market – it drives the pursuit of employment with better wages. Optimism may also be beneficial in other ways. Psychologists have often linked optimism with motivation and our ability to cope with stress. Believing in ourselves and in our abilities may also help us to convince others, especially our boss, that we are brilliant.

After all, to convince others of your competence, you really need to believe it yourself. If psychology is the problem – even in labour markets with no discrimination – women will continue to earn less, simply because they are too easily satisfied with lower pay.

It is difficult to know how laws and policy makers can solve this pessimistic female outlook, since personality traits tend to be established and fixed early on in pre-adult life. But perhaps one step in the right direction would be for employers to adjust their recruitment and promotion policies, by pulling up women with potential instead of waiting for them to come knocking.

 

the-conversation

 

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Getting women onto the board – why some countries fare better than others

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📥  Business and society, Gender equality, Policy

Office Politics is simply how power gets worked out on a practical, day-to-day basis. 

Office politics "is the use of one's individual or assigned power within an employing organization for the purpose of obtaining advantages beyond one's legitimate authority. Those advantages may include access to tangible assets, or intangible benefits such as status or pseudo-authority that influences the behavior of others. Both individuals and groups may engage in Office Politics." 

Office politics differs from office gossip in that people participating in office politics do so with the objective of gaining advantage, whereas gossip can be a purely social activity. However, both activities are highly related to each other.

Office politics also refers to the way co-workers act among each other. It can be either positive or negative although for most of us 'abnormals' it's negative!

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The world over, there are more men than women in corporate boardrooms. This means that business is missing out on the talent and skills of a hugely important group that could make business more competitive. Here, Dr Johanne Grosvold and Dr Bruce Rayton discuss research which shows how four key institutions - family, education, economy, and government - either facilitate or hinder women’s rise to the boardroom.

Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, Christine Lagarde of the World Bank questioned whether the bank would have collapsed had it been the Lehman Sisters, rather than the Lehman Brothers. She suggested that insufficient gender diversity in the upper echelons of financial institutions was partly to blame for the financial crisis and corporate collapses.

The continued under-representation of women in corporate boardrooms across the world remains a thorn in the side of big business and politicians alike. Increasingly though, governments and businesses are beginning to consider what can be done to redress the balance. Some countries such as France and Sweden are leading the way with up to 41% of women on the board, while others such as Greece and Malta lag behind with rates of only around 5-10%.

Given such cross-national variation, we set out to understand why it persists and to identify what could be done better to make gender diversity in the boardroom a reality. Taking a sample of 23 countries, including most of Western Europe, the USA, Asia and Latin America, we analysed the role of education, family, religion, economy and the role of the government in influencing board diversity. Our results were both surprising and encouraging.

Out of the five institutions we analysed, four were statistically significant in helping to explain why women do or don’t make it to the boardroom. Family, education, economy and the government all played a role while religion was the only factor that had no apparent effect.

Education - in countries where women and men enjoy similar levels of enrolment in higher education, women are better represented in the boardroom.

Family - in countries where there are fewer incidents of divorce, there are fewer women on the board. In other words, we found that an unintended outcome of higher rates of the divorce over the last few years has been greater labour force engagement and executive ambitions amongst women.

Economy - where women make up a smaller proportion of the managerial labour force, there are fewer women on the board.

Government - in countries where governments back their welfare legislation and family friendly policies with money and, for example, subsidise childcare, women are better represented in the boardroom. Passing legislation and instigating initiatives designed to encourage women to balance family and working life only give the desired results if there is adequate funding to make these initiatives meaningful and effective.

We believe these results may be good news for business and women alike. Increasingly more women than men are pursuing higher education, which means they are giving themselves the best starting point for climbing the corporate ladder. It is important, though, that governments consider the potential effects of their broader policies on women and families, to ensure that these help rather than hinder women to capitalise on the benefits of higher education.

In many countries, women retain the role of primary carer. Governments are, however, increasingly attuned to the need for providing better funded welfare provisions such as subsidised childcare to ensure that women are able to contribute fully to society and economy. This suggests that going forward, business is likely to reap the rewards of even more and better talent. To maximise these benefits, business could play a more active role in complementing government action, for example by including subsidised childcare in remuneration packages in countries where such provisions are not routinely provided by the state.

Welfare provisions of this kind have typically been associated with liberal or social democracies. But the growing acknowledgement of the business case for supporting women's career progression means that governments and employers in all countries should do more to encourage gender balance in the boardroom.

Is this the beginning of the end for Fairtrade?

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📥  Business and society, Supply chains

iain-daviesAfter decades of fast growth, a reversal in the fortunes of Fairtrade is apparent. This is particularly so for the Alternative Trading Organisations (ATOs) that spearheaded the movement, but which have become its first casualties. Dr Iain Davies asks what the future holds for Fairtrade.  

I remember cold, wet February mornings standing outside supermarkets and handing out free cups of coffee in an attempt to get the supermarket to stock Fairtrade products from ATOs. I remember walking into classrooms to eager faces waiting to hear how we can change the world through trade. It is now 20 years since those first Fairtrade Fortnights, and this week it is rolling around again with the brash claim that “the Fairtrade movement is made up of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in their communities”. The energy and vigour of this early social movement has however noticeably waned in recent years. This year, it is not just the British weather which is casting a dark shadow over proceedings. The question is being asked – is Fairtrade finished?

Fairtrade’s growth for much of those 20 years was meteoric. The Fairtrade mark not only became almost universally recognised, but inadvertently paved the way for the sustainability certifications that proliferate across fast moving consumables today. The UK led the way in the mass-marketization of Fairtrade, and still represents over 25% of all Fairtrade sales globally. But the future outlook has taken a noticeable turn for the worse.

Fairtrade-dave-crosby

Fairtrade by Dave Crosby

Fairtrade sales in the UK fell for the first time in 2015/16 by 5%. There is one growth area: bananas, a market dominated by one global supplier, Fyffes. Banana sales volumes are equivalent to that of cane sugar, coffee, cocoa, tea and cotton combined - all of which have seen volumes stagnate since 2011. Banana producers also benefit far more from Fairtrade membership, while smallholder-dominated categories like coffee and tea need to rely on other certification marks like Organic or Utz Certified to improve income.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Fairtrade benefits to producers (data from Fairtrade.net 2015 Monitoring and Impact report)

In the shops, growth has been in supermarket own-label products, often produced with reduced standards and limited producer support and development. The casualties are the pioneering ATOs, such as Traidcraft, Cafédirect, Divine and Liberation, who operate to much higher levels of producer support and development, but due to price competition and reduced shelf space, have seen like-for-like sales slump in the last five years. There have also been notable failures as new Fairtrade product categories such as gold, rice and quinoa have struggled to gain traction.

To further compound the issue, one of the biggest Fairtrade brands, Cadbury, has announced its intention to withdraw from the independent certification system in 2017, following others such as Starbucks into predominantly self-verified ethical certification. McDonald's and John Lewis Café have jumped to simpler verification systems such as Rainforest Alliance. 2017 certainly does not look rosy for Fairtrade.

There is also the issue of the consumer. Still largely unable to differentiate Fairtrade from other certification systems, our research suggests that frequent Fairtrade consumption is motivated by habit, self-gratification and peer influence, not a deep affinity with Fairtrade or its producers. These consumers are unlikely to switch brands purely because of a change in certification system.

So is the end of Fairtrade nigh? The idealistic social movement I joined, which believed it could subvert the market system, died some years ago. The Fairtrade which works within the existing market system to highlight issues of social injustice, however, and provides a framework for alternative trading, has nudged many commodity companies to confront their supply chain ethics. Indeed for people of this persuasion it could be argued the job is done. The more advisory role negotiated with Cadbury could offer a future to the certification bodies as they attempt to stay relevant to a corporatized, self-accredited system of supply chain governance.

But there remains a nagging feeling in my mind that the absorption of Fairtrade ideals into mainstream rhetoric has come at a cost. Not only has there been a reduction in the number of Fairtrade standards; one voice which may be noticeably absent this Fairtrade Fortnight is that of the pioneer ATOs that spearheaded this social movement. Increasingly delisted from supermarket shelves and priced out of the market by cheaper alternatives, they are struggling to break even whilst maintaining beyond Fairtrade commitments to producers. Ultimately, with an apathetic consumer and so many rhetorically similar marketing messages, it is these farmer owned, co-operative, or social enterprise pioneers that are likely to be the first casualty of Fairtrade’s demise.

 

We need a new voice in the debate about business and society

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📥  Business and society

veronica-hope-hailey1  andrew-crane

Veronica Hope Hailey, Dean of the School of Management, and Andrew Crane, Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society

In our increasingly polarised times, there is fervent debate over whether business is a force for good or bad in our societies. We believe it is high time that university researchers took a more active role in this debate, providing much needed evidence to inform popular opinion. To do so, we need to speak in a new voice.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” So starts Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities, a book which describes in stark comparison the cities of Paris and London at the time of the French Revolution. Today, we too live in divided times. We are divided politically, geographically, culturally, into the skilled and unskilled, the 99% and the 1%. Is your daily working life about Sports Direct or Goldman Sachs? About desperate migration or upward economic mobility? About zero hours contracts or business class flights?

Capitalism is over - you want it

Capitalism is over - you want it, photo by Anne Roth

Your answer to these questions will also undoubtedly inform your opinion about whether globalisation is a good thing or not and about whether business is largely to blame for many of the ills of the world. It will also colour your views on whether “sustainable business” is simply a hopelessly optimistic oxymoron or a genuinely realistic prospect in the coming decades. But these are not just matters of opinion. Behind the answers to these questions lie important empirical facts that can meaningfully shape the path we take.

What is clear, however, is that in times of uncertainty, trust becomes more important. But in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and never-ending corporate and political scandals, public confidence has been profoundly destabilised. The result has been a breakdown in trust in government, business, and so-called experts more generally - and a seeming turn to a “post-truth” society where “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

Irrespective of whether you believe we are really heading down a post-truth path, the message for those of us who might claim some degree of expert knowledge in the debate about business and society is clear. We cannot simply expect to be a trusted source of knowledge. And, to inform opinion, we need to do things differently from how we have in the past.

Most of us in the academic world are in our comfort zone when doing our research and speaking about it to our fellow scholars. A lot of our research is impenetrable to even an informed layperson. Even when it is not, our publications are usually locked behind the paywalls of academic publishers.

Too rarely do we actively bring our knowledge out to the world in a way that truly engages with non-academic audiences. And when we do, the results are sometimes catastrophic. As one recent article put it, “business schools play a significant role in reproducing the values, skills and mindset of much of what is wrong with contemporary capitalism, such as opportunism, greed, a focus on shareholder maximisation, and economic short-termism.”

Things are beginning to change. Our research suggests that the movement to embed sustainability in business school teaching and research is making progress. The Conversation is leading the way in bringing journalistic style to academic research. But in terms of accessible research specifically on business and society, we still have a long way to go. There remains a clear need for a trustworthy source of credible research to inform decisions about how business can best contribute to a sustainable society.

With the launch of the Bath Business and Society blog, we want to bring a new voice to this debate. In fact, we believe that the Bath School of Management is uniquely positioned to bring not just one new voice but a whole range of new voices. Our aim is to inform the conversation in a variety of ways through a variety of lenses. A focus on business and society is a core value of our school and nearly one third of our faculty do remarkable, world-class research addressing this theme.  Our students too, inspired and informed by our research, are impassioned, future leaders, looking to make a difference in the world.

Over the coming months, then, our faculty and students will be drawing on their unique vantage points to bring fresh insight and new knowledge to the debate about business and society. Whether it is climate change, fair trade, inequality, modern slavery, boardroom diversity, food waste, or employee wellbeing, they will have something novel, interesting, and informed to say.  And if they say it in enough different ways, maybe at least something will stick with our post-truth audience out there. Time will tell.