Orange: the latest green

May 30, 2014 | Blogs

Gender equality. Where are we?

Orange is in a good place.

Last week I attended day two of the annual Ethical Corporation Responsible Business Summit. Packed into the conference floor of the Hilton at London Bridge, I heard from some of the most progressive companies and their pathways to more sustainable business practice.

Nakul Anand, Executive Director at ITC Hotels India gave the keynote speech about what it means to deliver ‘responsible luxury’ to customers. By embedding responsible and green thinking into the business ITC successfully delivers guilt free customer indulgence. TATA Steel discussed the challenges it faced sourcing conflict free tin for their B2B customers, only to discover an even harder challenge- educating their customers about the value of responsible procurement. Alex Houtart, CSR Director at BNP Paribas Fortis conducted an animated session on the value of good CR Reporting for rating agencies. He explained that as we enter a second wave in Socially Responsible Investment (SRI), fund managers have used SRI indices to successfully out-perform conventional indices. To date, BNP Paribas Fortis has made a 400% growth on SRI products. But the company that left the greatest impression on me was French based telecom firm Orange – for its programmes on gender equality and social innovation.

Brigette Dumont, Chief CSR Officer at Orange described a number of ways Orange is driving the case for women’s empowerment which is proving to have a direct business benefit. Realising there is a real deficit of women in ICT roles, Orange approaches the issue from two directions. First, it has implemented internal training sessions within the company. These embed the idea that both men and women should have equal right and access to opportunities. Acknowledging that women have traditionally been less good at self-promotion, it has an ambitious objective of having 35% of top executive positions filled by female staff, by 2015. It has made this a publically accountable target. Externally, it is building up its future workforce by working with the education sector and proactively encouraging young women to take on more STEM-based career paths.

Steadily, Orange is therefore working to overcome the patriarchal stigmas attached to the tech sector.

A collection of additional HR policies also help drive the gender case:

  • Mentoring programmes specifically for women to help boost confidence
  • Employing female country managers,
  • Promoting childcare as both the responsibility of men and women through corporate communications
  • Flexible, child friendly working hours


Furthermore, Orange’s CEO published a book entitled ‘I am a CEO, and I am a father’, communicating from the top the importance of mixed parental responsibility. Orange has coupled these policies with compelling statistics – to prove that gender equality is actually leading to higher performance in the organisation, capturing this through comparative surveys.

In a similar fashion, Orange also has an applaudable approach to social innovation. Realising the upward demand for telecom services in developing countries, Orange now focuses on developing innovative social services for the poor. Through a culture of open innovation, Orange is developing a number of ICT4D based products. This not only contributes to the development of countries in which it operates, but capitalises the growing business opportunity as well. This range of new market services include:

  • Providing real time agricultural information to farmers
  • Online market platforms
  • Online education tools
  • SMS-based public health services


The strength of Orange’s success in social innovation lies with the partnerships it has formed with local stakeholders. This enables them to get a real grip of most relevant and pressing social needs. A key entry point to this is through the Orange Foundation – which acts as a link between community and business. Orange is slowly building up the business case for social innovation at scale. Yves Nissim, Head of Transformation and Operation in Corporate Social Responsibility, explained that five years ago he was only able to successfully role out social projects that had a 6 months return on investment (ROI). Now, the ROI extends to two years. He wants future Orange projects to have a much more organic time frame.

What assists Orange in gender and social innovation is that the ethics of both has been clearly communicated and seeded within the culture of the company. This has evidently provided the backbone for which progressive policies and innovation are allowed to thrive. Admittedly, not all companies are fortunate enough to have this working culture but we ought to look to companies such as Orange as inspiration of what could be. If the framework is there, arguably the rest is relatively straight forward.

As a company, Orange approaches the issue of gender inequality by communicating the direct implications this has on business performance. It places women on a platform until this corrects. Some may be negatively perceived as gender bias. But unless we are able to demonstrate through statistics and case studies that women are just as essential to the ICT sector as men, the disparity would just continue. Likewise, Orange’s progressive turn towards social innovation is a fine example of how it is proving to the wider industry that profit and social good can go hand in hand.  Until the balance of responsible business is tipped, it is important that companies such as Orange continue driving gender equality and social innovation though such instruments.

Orange presents a very clear message – that doing good (or green), is good business all round.