Inequality and sustainability – do we have an image problem?

Inequality and sustainability – do we have an image problem?

Recent reports have generated controversial headlines about men not engaging with sustainability because it is seen as a ‘feminine’ issue.

It’s certainly true that in the UK, the social enterprise sector is outperforming mainstream business when it comes to female leadership. According to the 2017 State of Social Enterprise Report 41% of social enterprises are led by women and over half (51%) have a majority female workforce.

So why is the social impact sector appealing more to women?

I’m becoming increasingly interested in this topic and it’s sparked some healthy debates in a few ethically-focused Facebook groups I’m part of.

A quick look at the #EthicalHour demographics seems to backup the theory that women are more engaged in ethical issues and sustainability:

Men make up just 16.8% of our Facebook group:

…and account for just 23% of our Twitter audience:

But why is this?

I’ve been talking to some inspiring women working in this sector to get their views and I’m hoping this will become a bigger project (I’m looking for men to speak to as well so if you’re part of the 16-23% let me know!)

Current theories range from women being naturally more empathetic to sustainability and ethics being more high profile in industries that are traditionally targeted at women – such as fashion and beauty.

It’s also interesting to consider how the environmental movement went mainstream – by using the marketing concept of “what kind of world are we leaving for our children?” – does this naturally appeal to the ‘woman as mother’ stereotypes and therefore exclude men from the conversation?

Personally I don’t believe this is a straightforward issue and I don’t think there is one clear cut reason as to why the social impact movement isn’t more mainstream amongst men. It could be argued that many of the researchers, investors and politicians interested in these areas are male – so maybe it is appealing at a higher level, but day to day ethical living is currently appealing more to women?

There are many negative stereotypes surrounding sustainability, but as it presents a global problem it’s going to require a global solution. I recently wrote a piece for Huffington Post all about this issue and the danger of not making environmentalism more inclusive. You can read it here.

There’s many different elements involved when it comes to whether people choose to live more ethically or not and it’s never going to be a black and white issue. The community online is incredibly supportive and is a great place to get started, but if it’s not appealing to everyone then we have a problem.

The only way we’re going to make a lasting impact is to make the movement as accessible as possible, and in my opinion if we’re going to do that we still have a lot to learn.

How can we make ethical living and sustainability more appealing to everyone?

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