In 2010 I co-created the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute (EFLI) as an initiative of the Eileen Fisher Community Foundation (EFCF) dedicated to providing leadership education to young women. This opportunity has focused my career on the intersection of philanthropy, corporate responsibility, and direct services, as I have built an organization that counters the traditional view that businesses have no room for building a philanthropic base into their work.
While women are facing enormous obstacles around the world, women in the United States face a specific set of obstacles when it comes to becoming leaders in their fields. While American women are holding more professional jobs in traditionally male-dominated fields than ever before, there is a shocking disparity when looking at the percentage of women in leadership positions. For example: As recently as 2016, 43% of the 150 highest-earning public companies in Silicon Valley had no female executive officers at all.
Eileen Fisher’s vision and generosity have driven her success as a CEO (EILEEN FISHER Inc. has over $300 million in annual revenue), and have driven her work to create a philanthropic business model that aligns personal and organizational purpose. 1) A corporate giving model with employee committees using collective decision making tools 2) The public foundation that provides direct service through leadership education for young women.
While there has been a long and winding road (spanning more than three decades) to get here, there are two tangible keys that have created the conditions for making our model possible:
1) Keeping the company privately held while selling a large portion to the employees in an ESOP
2) Establishing and aligning personal and organizational purpose.
The impact of Eileen’s commitment to philanthropy is real and long-lasting. At EFLI, we see how our summer and academic year programs are truly direct services to young women; providing participants with profound opportunities to experience personal growth and transformation into the confident leaders of tomorrow. Because we are a public foundation with support from EILEEN FISHER Inc., we can engage with other organizations and individuals interested in our global vision, expanding our connection to populations across the country, and the world. EFLI is the outcome of a corporation using its power and influence as a source of good in the world, and we know that, as more businesses join the movement of committing to more than the bottom line, that together, we can all be a force for good.
Through my work with EFLI, I am proud to champion a business model in which living a life of integrity is as important as meeting my deadlines. This commitment to balance, and to each person being a whole person in and out of the office, is what women in leadership positions bring to the table; an ability to look at the big picture, to see a long term vision in addition to short term profit gains. My life’s work is dedicated to educating young women in how to live outside the shadow of what they “should” be – that they can, instead, live from a place of possibility. My personal commitment to this work remains focused on building a world in which this is the way we live, and the way we give.