This article originally appeared in Forbes.
When last we met our “Superheroes of Capitalism” (alias: “ Sustainable Investors”), they were valiantly fighting to highlight the critical importance of analyzing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors in predicting corporate financial performance. They were coming to terms with the trade-offs inherent in taking a long-term perspective. They had acknowledged that in order to drive economic growth, employment gains, and strong consumer spending, there are serious and unquantified costs to our planet and the universe. And importantly, they were hunting for ways to innovate solutions to wildly complex, intractable problems like climate change, energy security and efficiency, water scarcity, internet security, and human rights. Among the Superheroes, there were some at the World Economic Forum in Davos who noticed the strong voices of Christine Lagarde of the IMF and Angela Merkel of Germany. But, where were all the other women heroes and what are their secret powers? It appears that their extraordinary powers may be derived and amplified by their ability to collaborate.
In seeking these new female Superheroes, we move from Davos, Switzerland to Paris, France and the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). With its Business and Industry Advisory Council (BIAC) event on “Women’s Economic Empowerment” we are reminded of the origins of DC Comics’ renowned “Justice League.” Its founding members from 1960 (The Brave and the Bold vol.1 #28) were Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. When Earth was attacked by the Appellaxians, the Superheroes found they could only defeat the aliens by working together. They needed to pool their powers to confront the menaces. The same can be said for the all the participants in today’s system of capitalism as we face multiple crises including those of the environment and resource scarcity, the sovereign and household debt burdens, and the desperate need for reforms in our education and healthcare systems. At Davos in 2014 it was indeed inspiring to hear from Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Indra Nooyi of Pepsi, Francoise Gri of Manpower, and Dominique Reiniche of Coca-Cola. At Davos 2015, there was relatively little progress with the attendance list, but gender inclusion was at the top of the agenda. Now we must seek out the many more Superhero women quietly walking among us.
The Invisible Woman (alias: “Susan Storm”), a founding member of the Fantastic Four, could also prove to be a perfect disguise for Dr. Jean Rogers, as she too is in the business of leveraging transparency. But we know that Jean, an engineer turned businesswoman, co-wrote a paper at Harvard Business School entitled “From Transparency to Performance” which argues for investors’ need of more critical information to make informed decisions for deploying their capital productively. Although never having been struck by cosmic rays during a mission to outer space, Dr. Rogers does bear a striking resemblance to the best side of “Jean Grey” of the X-Men. She uses her powerful mental capacities and her discipline to harness the forces of nature. Rogers calls for companies to offer greater disclosures to investors through the “integrated reporting” of materially important information such as Board composition, employee engagement and natural resource utilization.
In considering other notable commonalities among the Superheroes, we see that Susanne Stormer (Vice President of Danish based pharmaceutical company Novo-Nordisk) has a curiously similar name to that taken by the Invisible Woman we know from above. In actuality, Ms. Stormer is the Global Head of “Triple Bottom Line” Management at Novo. At Davos, this company was recently designated the #1 “Corporate Knight” of Clean Capitalism. Susanne brilliantly articulates Novo’s success in being financially, environmentally, and socially responsible. Perhaps Susanne is actually “Wonder Woman”? In our research though, we find that the Amazon princess Wonder Woman hides her true identity through the guise of Diana Prince. So, we borrow the invisible jet used by that superhero to seek others who are highly proficient in hand-to-hand combat, the art of tactical warfare, and the theoretical “Lasso of Truth,” which forces those bound by it to cooperate. This reminds us to consider the lawyers.
Finally on our journey, we end up in California where we discover another secret link of “Susans.” This time it’s Susan Mac Cormac of the law firm of Morrison and Foerster. This particular Susan has been a pioneer in the creation of California’s B Corporation or Flexible Purpose Corporation, which more readily empowers public companies to pursue the maximization of shareholder value while also applying a societal lens to their business models. Susan’s work has helped to break the chains that bind investors to short-term thinking. Her work, and that of many others, make it clear that there is a powerful movement underfoot. A movement harnessing the mighty collaborative power of women around the world to sustain the great potential of Capitalism. A movement that transcends the ability of any single individual to drive the capital markets. This movement is likely to lead to the continued ramping of new signatories of the Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI) and a greater understanding of how to implement them. Jean Rogers, Susanne Stormer, Susan Mac Cormac: These women are among the new “Superheroes of Capitalism.” This movement is today’s new “Justice League.”