Sex, Gender Stereotypes, and Corporate Social Responsibility

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August 4, 2011; Source: Forbes (The CSR Blog) | It has always been hard to fathom the connection between Indy-car driver Danica Patrick, health trainer Jillian Michaels, and the sale of website domain names, but it works for (especially when Patrick and Michaels are dressed in nothing but high heels). Clearly, the company is trading not only on sexual titillation, but also on gender stereotypes. Should that factor into a company’s corporate social responsibility score?

Some observers believe that stereotyping women in corporate advertising—whether as sexual objects, as emotionally fragile beings who need a special kind of deodorant (such as Degree, which is purportedly “extra responsive in emotional moments”), or as moms gleefully doing laundry and dishes—isn’t quite what corporate social responsibility is all about. Yet both GoDaddy and Degree have high-profile corporate social responsibility initiatives underway. Go Daddy Cares has contributed to disaster relief in Haiti, Iowa, and the Gulf Coast. Customers are also encouraged to “round up” their purchases to the nearest dollar, with the difference going to GoDaddy’s charity of the moment—along with a 100-percent match from the company.

A Forbes corporate social responsibility blogger asks, “Why isn’t depicting women in a fair and respectable light an ethical obligation—a CSR obligation—for some companies?” She doesn’t think that corporate philanthropy undoes the negative effect of the “blatant sexism” in these ads. CSR, she says, “is not just about helping kids, the environment or the needy. It is also about behaving responsibly and ethically toward society as a whole. This means moving past gender stereotypes that affect men and women and creating ads that reflect the same values…[with] positive social messaging around women and girls.”

We’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on this. Is the objectification of women in advertising reason to downgrade the CSR rating of a company?Rick Cohen

  • Sue Murphy

    A company that exploits any group of people has no business claiming to be socially responsible, no matter what kind of charitable work it’s doing. Too many companies view CSR simply as a way of polishing their images, instead of embracing it as part of their day-to-day business.

    Our company is working to embed CSR in everything we do–how we design our products, how we treat our people, how we relate to our customers and vendors, how we adhere to ethical standards, how we interact with the environment. We see it as a process, not a promotion.

    Companies that give donations with one hand and exploit people with the other are revealing their inherent disrespect for people in general, and they need to wake up and realize that they are not fooling anyone. What they are doing is making those of us who really want to make a difference look bad.

  • Kelly Kleiman

    Absolutely, demeaning women in advertising for your company demonstrates all by itself that your company is not socially responsible. What kind of organization trashes 51% of the population and then tries to whitewash it with a few bucks to good causes? Well, one I won’t invest in.