Sustainability is Female

Yesterday I have been interviewed by a Cambridge University researcher in the context of a study about the Circular Economy. Among other things, we of course talked about the #EmbeddedSustainabilityIndex of Exsulting and the main obstacles and enablers for a wider implementation of Embedded Sustainability in industry. While trying to express in simple terms why it is still difficult for business people to overcome the long habit to think “quarterly” and get back to the common sense of considering the long term resilience of their companies, I was struck by a sudden awareness: sustainability is female. Of course! Let me try to explain, by recalling what I delineated to my patient interlocutor (a woman herself, unsurprisingly). 

Women give birth to babies, after keeping them 9 long months in their womb, where the miracle of life takes the form of a perfect, complete and extremely complex living being. It takes an enormous effort, lots of energy, patience, dedication, concentration and the incredible intelligence of a body to achieve this. All done, more or less, unconsciously, guided by a superior force: the inspiration from Life to do something inherent in the mother’s nature.

Mutatis mutandis, i.e. in due proportion, this is what should happen in the life of an entrepreneur: yielding to the power of an inspiration to realize a vision and putting in all the effort that is needed. Achieving such goal requires unshakable dedication to organize the multiple factors of production, share the vision, engage and inspire different people to participate in the venture, keep the team together, foster innovation and give thus birth to a very complex “legal being”: the enterprise.

Whenever a woman gives birth to the baby, after all that effort and the flow of hormones that birth entails, how could she think “quarterly” of the little being? After all of that, it is natural that she wishes the longest life for it. She will dream of the best life possible for her offspring, and will do all that is in her power to ensure that it will occur to her child.

Mothers look naturally to the long term, and think accordingly: they have an in-built capacity of envisioning extended timelines, complex interactions. They are natural systemic thinkers, because they “are” a complex system with the child that is growing inside their womb and who depends on them for the first months of his or her life. 

The male is different, because of a biological peculiarity, so to say. It has a very short horizon: it just aims to spread his genes as much as possible. After copulation, he may very well go and never see the cub. Most unfortunately, this still happens too often among human beings, from whom we should expect a more considerate behavior. I won’t discuss much biology here, or sociology, though: this digression was just to say that there may be reasons why we see a vast majority of males in finance and a large number of females on the frontline of sustainability and the circular economy. Of course this is not an absolute rule, since there are many men who are very sensible to sustainability and some women who are Wall Street wolves. I am myself a “motherly father”, therefore I am the first to admit exceptions to the above statements. But as the saying goes: “exceptions do confirm the rule”. 

The financial economy is very much like the selfish spreading of semen of males: looking for quarterly results, careless of the long term resilience and profitability, careless of people. Why invest in research, human potential development, business model innovation, integration of Value Chains – let alone sustainability and something as complicated as circular economy – all things that take time and effort, if you are just looking for the widest dissemination of your genes, i.e. the highest short-term returns?

Therefore I came to the conclusion that sustainability, especially when considered strategically and embedded as it should, “is female”. It entails systemic thinking, long term vision, and a dedication to the wellbeing of the company and its galaxy of stakeholders in the long term that comes easier to the feminine mindset (than some men have, mind: it’s not strictly gender based). As I concluded with my Cambridge interlocutor, what we need to foster a more widespread diffusion of sustainability is education: education of political leadership, of entrepreneurs, of financial institutions, of the new generation of graduates that will form the management lines of the near and far future. We need more education to the feminine capacity of caring, empathizing and think inclusively at every level of society. We also need education of every citizen and child that such will become about the fact that sustainable development is everybody’s business, no one exempt from responsibility. We finally need more information about how good sustainability is for everyone, and to learn that when everyone is better anyone else, the ever too important “I” included, is better off.

Finally, since the feminine is inclusive, the masculine too will be engaged in the effort, with its capacity for strength, acute effort, planning and rationalization of resources (supporting the feminine and the whole “family”, as the biology of Homo Sapiens Sapiens should entail, BTW). 

I envision a brilliant future for humanity, if we collectively learn to integrate more of the feminine, i.e. sustainability holistically intended, in our reasoning and day to day life. 

Welcome home, sustainability, from your male, passionate lover.