Emily Reed

By Emily Reed

CSR and Women’s Entrepreneurship

‘There are many definitions of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) but in many cases, CSR focuses on pressing social issues which business share some kind of concern,’ says Dr Mary Johnstone-Louis, Senior Research Fellow at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. ‘I argue that gender is one such issue, but if CSR paradigms don’t question established definitions of work, they may reproduce the kind of inequalities they seek to solve,’ she explains.

In her paper in Business Ethics Quarterly in 2017, Dr Mary Johnstone-Louis explores the rising interest of CSR in gender. She analysed leading entrepreneurship journals to understand the way that women engage with entrepreneurial opportunities and what businesses who are trying to engage with women can learn from those insights. She draws on research from feminist economic historians to better our understanding of the way the definition of work has changed over time and the tendency for women to disproportionally specialise in unpaid and care work.

‘If you look at the total work that’s done in an economy, women relative to men tend to specialise in work that’s not remunerated, often unpaid and care work,’ she explains. ‘When you look at business organisations, that work is often discounted or completely ignored. We tend to take this as a given, but in fact it is possible to trace this tendency to historical developments in economic thought.  When you embrace a narrow view of work, you lose a complete view of the economy and if you’re looking at trying to productively use human capital as an organisation, it might be wiser if you looked more widely at the other kinds of work that people in your organisation are engaged in,’ she concludes.

‘By understanding work not just as paid work that is done in formal organisations, but looking at the totality of work including unpaid and care work, you can set organisational policy and organisational norms in line with that,’ suggests Dr Johnstone-Louis. ‘In doing so, something that was invisible and often individualised is made visible for all to see and helps with the redistribution effort that allows care to be recognised and shared.’


Mary Johnstone-LouisDr Mary Johnstone-Louis is a Senior Research Fellow at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford with the Ford Foundation Programme on Ownership and Corporate Purpose.  Her research examines the role of business in society in a context of rapid global shifts.

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