Across the board we’re witnessing the rise of ‘brand purpose,’ but a brand’s purpose must be more than just a campaign idea or a 30-second ad spot.
A couple of years ago we believed that by being sustainable we will run more responsible, better businesses. The world in general, but also the business world, is waking up to the fact that pursuing sustainability is no longer enough. We have realized that humanity is exceeding its usage of resources faster than pursuing sustainability alone can correct. Business today must be regenerative. We need to innovate, we need to collaborate and be creative together, and we need feminine values in order to get us there, especially: empathy, vulnerability, participation, and devotion.
So what exactly does it look like for businesses to be regenerative? Simply put, it means giving back more than we take. It requires that we become attuned to the spaces we operate in by being conscious of the interdependence between humanity, the planet, and profit.
If we want to have a positive impact on people and the planet we must bust the myth that a higher brand purpose comes at the cost of profit. As Larry Fink says in his powerful letter to CEOs, we need to acknowledge that purpose and profit are inextricably linked together.
We’ve already seen that brands that prioritize people and planet along with profits outperform brands that do not. The 28 Sustainable Living Brands of Unilever are growing 69% faster than the rest of the Unilever business and delivering 75% of the company’s growth. Unilever’s mission to fundamentally change the way they do business has had truly incredible results for their business.
At the same time, it is hard to fundamentally change the way we do things because it’s easier to stay within our comfort zone. Changing into a regenerative business means moving from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism. For this, we have to work with more diverse stakeholders to collectively make change happen, and this is where feminine values come in.
Working with diverse stakeholders requires empathy. I see empathy as the superpower of humanity. I often witness situations where it’s difficult to join forces. To me, the ability to truly empathize unlocks the shift to most of the problems we try to solve.
Over the course of my life I realized that seemingly insurmountable barriers can be more easily overcome when we connect to the other side in a genuine, non-judgmental way. When we get multiple stakeholders to step into each other’s shoes and see the world through someone else’s eyes it always helps to bridge the divide and close the gap.
Empathy is often mislabeled as a soft skill. On the contrary, empathy is a fierce, feminine skill that needs to be nurtured. And yes, everybody can train empathy. The more we do it the ‘fitter’ we become, and the more it makes us present for personal contribution.
Empathy comes hand in hand with another feminine value: vulnerability. As we build more regenerative brands we are stepping into a world of unknowns, of firsts, and that requires us to be real about what we don’t know yet, and what we need to learn together.
Within the business world I was taught not to show my vulnerable side. It was and still strongly is associated with weakness. I realized very soon though that exactly the opposite is true. It takes a strong and fearless leader to embrace vulnerability. Whilst we naturally feel more comfortable staging ourselves through performance and thought leadership, exposing our vulnerable side makes us more human, more accessible and helps us to forge deeper connections for bigger impact.
When going through a transformation process it can be scary at moments. It’s daunting because we need to turn paradigms upside down, moving away from business as usual and exploring an uncharted path to improve in the long-term. The moment we embrace and accept our vulnerability we build deeper trust with others and commit to learning from setbacks along the way.
In addition to empathy and vulnerability we need participation. The regenerative business movement won’t gain the momentum we need through just a few challengers — we need many. We need to widen our circles and invite others to take an active role in order to find solutions, and not only to find them, but to implement them. We are in this together, and the more we cooperate the faster we will generate real impact.
And finally, we need devotion. It takes an emotional and personal commitment in order to see regenerative change through in the long term. Devotion keeps us connected, engaged, and it helps us keep going, even in the face of challenges.
What is beautiful about these feminine values is that they can be practiced and utilized by anyone: men and women, CEOs and entrepreneurs, visionaries and mobilizers. Our world has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. It’s time for an era of empathy and silo shifting, so we can create a radically inclusive and richly regenerative global economy.
Joyshree Reinelt CEO of Innate Motion, outlines why a feminine approach to leadership will help brands go beyond vague sustainability commitments and social impact positioning to become a true force for good.
A fierce proponent of radical collaboration and fierce empathy to drive change, Joyshree breaks down how to drive change from the inside out; with a commitment to a new form of leadership at the heart.