Four For Friday (41)

You are probably being kept well-informed on coronavirus by the real and just-in-time virologists, immunologists, epidemiologists etc in your social streams.

This is a break from all that. Or is it?

Enormous and uncertain in the scale and scope of its impact, Coronavirus is a true example of “disruption”, a word otherwise rendered meaningless by its being bandied about to describe far lesser things. At the time of writing, board directors and executive teams are contending with its acute impact on their businesses and institutions and the emerging leadership is fascinating to watch. This study of over 30,000 managers in a range of industries across several continents makes a timely appearance in Harvard Business Review. It also has some good practical advice to develop one’s own versatility.

One is the need to juggle a growing series of paradoxical demands (do more with less; cut costs but innovate; think globally, act locally). The other is the unprecedented pace of “disruptive change,” which speeds up the interaction of these demands and simultaneously increases the pressure on organizations to adapt.

These challenges have significantly amplified the need for versatile leaders who have the ability to cope with a variety of changes and the wherewithal to resolve competing priorities. It is not an overstatement to say that versatility is the most important component of leading effectively today. Versatile leaders have more engaged employees and higher performing teams. Their business units are more adaptable and innovative. Their organizations are more capable of gaining a competitive advantage because they know how to disrupt before being disrupted.

Around here we love research data. This paper on SSRN caught our eye. Could independent women directors on the board help a company become environmentally — and financially — more robust? Data suggest the answer is “Yes!”. The paper is downloadable in full at that link.

This paper examines the effect of board gender diversity on renewable energy consumption. Using a panel of 11,677 firm-year observations from the USA for 2008–2016, we find a positive relationship between board gender diversity and renewable energy consumption. Moreover, boards require two or more women for women to have a significant impact on renewable energy consumption, consistent with the critical mass theory. Further, we document that the positive impact of female directors on renewable energy consumption stems from female independent rather than female executive directors. Finally, we find a positive effect of renewable energy consumption and board gender diversity on firm financial performance. Our findings are robust to different identification strategies and estimation techniques.

We are seeing prompt, frantic action in the face of coronavirus. What if we brought the same urgency to dealing with climate change: this article in Fast Company asks. Do we have the will when deaths occur slower and the devastation seems to be limited to other people’s shores?

But in countries around the world, governments and citizens have been quick to change daily habits. The same hasn’t happened for the climate crisis.

“We’ve seen that governments can act, and people can change their behavior, in a very short amount of time,” says May Boeve, executive director of the climate advocacy group “And that’s exactly what the climate movement has been asking governments and people to do for years in the face of a different kind of threat—the climate crisis—and we don’t see commensurate action. On the one hand, it shows that it’s possible to do this, and it’s possible for this kind of mobilization of resources to take place in a short amount of time. In that sense, that’s encouraging. But we were never in doubt of that aspect.” Instead, she says, it was a question of whether there was political will for rapid change.

Much has been written about how the coronavirus pandemic is also our first “infodemic” that fuels the spread of misinformation. Could we learn from epidemiology to prevent the spread of misinformation and falsehoods? This Springer paper suggests a quarantining framework. The link lets you access the paper in full.

In this paper we explore quarantining as a more ethical method for delimiting the spread of Hate Speech via online social media platforms. Currently, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google generally respond reactively to such material: offensive messages that have already been posted are reviewed by human moderators if complaints from users are received. The offensive posts are only subsequently removed if the complaints are upheld; therefore, they still cause the recipients psychological harm. In addition, this approach has frequently been criticised for delimiting freedom of expression, since it requires the service providers to elaborate and implement censorship regimes. In the last few years, an emerging generation of automatic Hate Speech detection systems has started to offer new strategies for dealing with this particular kind of offensive online material. Anticipating the future efficacy of such systems, the present article advocates an approach to online Hate Speech detection that is analogous to the quarantining of malicious computer software. If a given post is automatically classified as being harmful in a reliable manner, then it can be temporarily quarantined, and the direct recipients can receive an alert, which protects them from the harmful content in the first instance. The quarantining framework is an example of more ethical online safety technology that can be extended to the handling of Hate Speech. Crucially, it provides flexible options for obtaining a more justifiable balance between freedom of expression and appropriate censorship.

Fun stuff to discover while you are here: if you don’t read Normcore Tech, you should. Vicki Boykis is a smart combination of tech, sharp social observation, a dry sense of humour and a gift for writing.