In 2015, Roz Brewer, then CEO of Sam's Club, made a simple statement that seemed radical to some. In an interview with CNN she talked about her commitment to diversity, saying, ''I demand it of my team,'' sharing an anecdote of her making a phone call to one supplier after meeting with them and discovering that the entire table was full of white men. That comment alone ignited backlash for Brewer and Walmart, which owns Sam's Club, with the hashtag #boycottracistsamsclub making waves on Twitter.

Today, comments such as Brewer's, that were once deemed bold and sparked national attention, are slowly becoming the norm with leaders now facing pressure to not only increase their diversity stats, but also expand their social responsibility (CSR) efforts to include social justice. The murder of George Floyd, the rise in Asian hate crimes, and the Russia-Ukraine war have contributed to this increased demand for companies to pick a side, making old statements like Brewer's, who now serves as the CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance, less of an anomaly.

While the past few years have raised the social consciousness of executives from all industries and backgrounds, recent examples and CSR research prove that it's women and leaders with gender and racially diverse executive teams who are driving the most impact when it comes to social responsibility. According to Catalyst, gender-inclusive leadership has long been linked to organizations having higher philanthropic donations. In fact, a 2021 report found that companies with at least 25% women corporate officers made annual philanthropic contributions that were 13 times higher than companies with no women leaders.

Diversity Drives Impact

The report, co-authored by a diverse group of professors, points out a concept called ''upper echelons theory,'' which explains that the ''decision-making of a company reflects the characteristics of its top executives.'' Therefore, when women and racially diverse leaders step into executive roles, they often bring their personal experiences, community values, and social interests with them.

For example, last year when Texas introduced its restrictive abortion ban, both Bumble and Match, two companies led by women, created relief funds for employees affected by the new law. ''As I have said before, the company generally does not take political stands unless it is relevant to our business,'' Match CEO Shar Dubey told employees in a memo. ''But in this instance, I personally, as a woman in Texas, could not keep silent.''

Similar to Bumble and Match, several other company executives have taken recent stands on social issues relating to abortion rights, voting rights, racial and economic justice, and the Russia-Ukraine war. Many of these leaders who have spoken out come from organizations where there is diverse representation at the top.

At Citigroup, where Jane Fraser is making history as the first woman to helm a major Wall Street Bank, the financial institution has donated $1 million to help with the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the bank is working to help its Ukraine-based employees seek refuge in Poland by sending advances on pay. At Patagonia, where women make up 50% of its executive team, the company co-signed a statement denouncing Texas's regressive Heartbeat Act and Georgia's 2021 restrictive voting laws.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

These days, it's simply not enough to rainbow-wash your logo for Pride or tweet an #IWD hashtag and not have the goods to back up your words of solidarity (see this UK twitter bot for real-time call-outs). While it's easy to write a statement, it's harder to take real impactful action. A recent Morning Consult poll on the Russia-Ukraine war found that 75% or more U.S. adults support companies cutting business ties with Russia, financially helping Americans in Ukraine return home, and directly donating to the Ukrainian people.

If these efforts of social responsibility are done correctly and genuinely, studies show that companies can reap the dividends. Brands that are tied to a meaningful purpose outperformed the stock market by 206% over the last decade and increased their KPIs by 137% compared to companies without mission-alignment. A recent 2022 Edelman study also found that 60% of consumers and two-thirds of investors say they base their purchase and support for a brand based on whether its values align with theirs.

''I think every company has to weigh for themselves where they're going to put their stake in the ground,'' says Jennifer Thorpe-Moscon, VP, Research and Chair for Catalyst's Awards. She warns that while there's an endless list of causes for companies to get involved in, executives should be mindful to align with the social issues that tie to their mission and that, most importantly, engage employees from diverse identities.

An easy way to start, based on the research above, is to have women executives lead the way.

Have you listened to the Chief podcast? Tune into "The New Rules of Business" as Chief Co-Founders Carolyn Childers and Lindsay Kaplan unpack today's often nuanced, dichotomous leadership challenges to change how executives do business. Follow wherever you get your podcasts.