In this third episode in Protiviti’s podcast series on the Responsible Technology Firm of the Future, Managing Directors Gordon Tucker, Matt Moore and Jim DeLoach discuss how technology firms have ethical, moral and even stakeholder-driven obligations to prioritize corporate social responsibility in their organizations.
The board and the tech industry have the opportunity to set the tone and ensure that this is a priority for the CEO and for the executive team. It’s all in the agenda that the board establishes.
I think it does suggest that when you look at the board’s approach to oversight, if the emphasis is on performance and reporting, then that’s a lost opportunity. The emphasis here really needs to be on strategy and policy. There are a lot of policy questions around this. Some within the industry are referring to this as the ethics problem, the ethics issue. Are we just going to continue the unrelenting pace of change and implement technology regardless of what the consequences might be? Or are we going to try to approach things a little bit more thoughtfully? That’s a question that is being raised outside of the industry by very powerful stakeholders. So, this is a matter of being proactive as opposed to having to react to artificial boundaries set for the industry, which would not be a good thing for the industry.
I think part of it is, “Is the board future ready?” There's this term that I am hearing in board circles. Is the board future ready? So, this explains, then, the impact of the need for technology-related skills, specialty skills, whether someone's sitting in a seat on the board, or whether it's accessing outside experts. That certainly impacts the speed – again, I think the danger is that the board just continues with business as usual and allows the pace to be set by a CEO who may be focused on business as usual.
Women make up half of the U.S. college-educated labor force, but account for just under 30 percent of employees in the STEM fields, which, just on its face, doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense. Furthermore, what surprised me when I went through and did some background research on this is that the percentage of women in STEM fields has actually fallen over the last 20 years or so, from the mid 30s to 25 percent. So, something foundationally is happening in terms of graduating with a STEM background and then continuing in that field. So foundationally, that's an issue.
Those in the STEM fields, those with greater balance of gender on their board and in their executive management suites, perform better, return better. Then, I think it has to be said that, for a lot of the negative headlines we've seen around certain companies, there's a cultural impact, a reputational impact for companies that operate in a male-dominated way.
It is not hard to see the direct-line connection between fewer women at executive levels and the behavior, if you will, of executive management teams. So, I think culturally, it's essential. It reflects society. Frankly, I think the products and services that come out will be better because they'll be appreciated and adapted by more people in society. So, I just think it's inherent that having a better balance across gender makes all the sense in the world for these companies, and frankly, all companies.
What it takes is kind of a bold approach by companies to really focus on creating balance within their organizations. There are many, many good examples in the technology industry of companies who've taken a hard look at their own situation and, whether it's a pay disparity or whether it's just a simple disparity in the balance of employees, have gone out, addressed it, and fixed it. And they come back and they look, year after year. “Are we doing it well? Are we maintaining that balance?" When they don't, they correct it.
Brand is predicated upon trust. As these technology companies have really expanded and grown, the impact they have on society, in general, and on individuals, in particular, has grown at an even faster rate. With that impact comes a great responsibility to protect the customer's impact, to be responsible contributors to society. Frankly, that responsibility extends to the assets that their customers entrusted them, data being one of those. So, it's really viewed as integral to and consistent with the importance of the tone at the top, managing the brand and reputation. Not so much to prevent bad things or negative outcomes from occurring, but more so to elevating and strengthening the brand, enhancing the reputation to build further trust with the societies that these companies are impacting, and then ultimately, the customers that are utilizing their platforms, that are integrating them into their daily lives and becoming, essentially, pretty dependent upon the products, the services and the platforms that these companies are providing.