OPINION13 July 2022

Mars, Venus and ESG: examining the gender gap

B2B Behavioural science Opinion Trends

Mustard’s Andrew Wiseman explores the gender gap when it comes to environmental, social and corporate governance.

Chalk figures of a female and male in pink and blue respectively, with a question mark in between

Let’s get something out of the way first of all. Your customers don’t care about environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) or corporate social responsibility (CSR); or rather, they might, they’re just not that familiar with what these in fact are.

Given the investor community’s slant on ESG, this comes as less of a surprise. But CSR has been around for years, yet still isn’t familiar to consumers, at least in its acronymised guise.

Your customers do, however, care about more tangible elements that contribute to the CSR/ESG mix – there’s clear evidence that things like sustainability and diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I) are well-understood amongst the general public.

Most people will be familiar with the phrase, Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, the title of John Gray’s 1992 self-help book. The central tenet of the work is that most common relationship problems between men and women are a result of fundamental psychological differences between the sexes.

Mustard’s exclusive research, conducted in conjunction with Panelbase, suggests that these psychological differences present themselves when it comes to talking about ESG, or matters that are part of the ESG or CSR framework. At the heart of the research, the conclusion that “men claim to know more, but care less about matters pertaining to ESG” particularly stands out.

When asked about ESG and CSR, more than twice as many men than women claimed to know something about them and, perhaps more significantly, more men claim to know exactly what these things mean, both at the headline level, and in more detail. For example, 10% more men than women claim to know exactly what sustainability means.

Conversely, when we focus on how important these issues are to people, we get the polar opposite result. Typically, around 10% more women than men claim that matters relating to ESG are ‘very’, or ‘extremely’ important to them, with women significantly more likely than men to choose the ‘extremely important’ box.

So, what’s at play here? Is it the case, as was suggested in some of our analysis sessions, that men “are just evil”? Or is there something else, deep-seated in the psyche, that leads to these patterns of response?

On the knowledge side of the fence, one could argue a distinct lack of intellectual humility is more prevalent amongst men than it is women. In a world where ‘I don’t know’ is often seen (rightly or wrongly) as a sign of weakness, it may often pay to claim that you do know the answer, especially when there’s an absence of follow-up to test that knowledge.

There are parallels here with the issue of male mental health too – where admitting that you’re not the alpha-male you outwardly express can (at least in the internal wonder that is the brain) leave you feeling you’re somehow less of a man. Thankfully, these thoughts and issues are starting to reduce in society, and men are typically becoming more open in expressing their true thoughts, doubts and feelings.

Crossing over to caring, again there are a number of angles here. Historically, in the long-gone days where men went to work and women ‘stayed at home’, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the more nurturing/caring aspect of the female psyche demonstrates itself strongly. But arguably there’s more to it more than that.

At the heart of the debate here is the issue of white male privilege – especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion. For many white men, they have never experienced being overlooked for roles based on their gender, haven’t had to read gender pay gap statistics and wonder why they’re paid less or, even worse, suffered misogyny and sexism in the workplace.

It’s perhaps not surprising then, that men are significantly more likely to say diversity and inclusion in the workplace is unimportant/less important to them, or that half of women state that it’s extremely important.

What this research shows is that there remains a long way to go, not only in understanding what the future holds for the planet and each of us who lives on it, but also in continuing to break down the barriers that exist for many in society.

It is important that we continue to celebrate our differences, and it’s encouraging to hear that when the research focuses on younger adults, the gaps between men and women are far less marked.

Whilst Mars and Venus will always be separate entities, this at least provides hope for the future that these two worlds will continue to converge for the good of everyone in society.

Andrew Wiseman is strategy director at Mustard