Hershey POV: For the Social Impact pillar, this article offers specific examples of companies that effectively embrace corporate social responsibility. It notes that being socially conscious at a company does not mean falling short in other areas, such as profit or pay. Further, companies need not appear to be a perfectly logical fit for making a positive impact on society, as there are many ways to achieve that goal. And an important trait of socially conscious companies, the article says, is an ability to inspire their employees to do good things.
People at all levels of their career have begun to embrace socially conscious companies. However, there are still several misconceptions about this rapidly growing movement. If a company is built around a social mission, some people assume it cannot be profitable, that it has fewer perks, or its employees get paid less and work long hours. What does it really mean to work for a socially conscious company?
We live in a modern world. People who work during the day at a company that makes a huge difference in the environment still own cell phones, live in apartments or homes that are not LEED-certified, drive to the grocery store, and fly on planes powered by jet fuel to take vacations that would not be considered ecotourism. No one is perfect. The silver lining is that you do not need to be perfect to make a significant social impact within and beyond your workplace.
Companies can have conscious behaviors even if they do not create a product with obvious conscious ties. They might bring in dogs to help reduce employee stress, or permit flexible schedules to accommodate families, or commit to hiring for diversity of thought.
One such example of a socially conscious behavior is LinkedIn. LinkedIn's Head of Social Impact Meg Garlinghouse aims to help the 6 million "opportunity youth" in this country—young people ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor working—connect with networks, skills and opportunities to help them establish the foundation for a successful career.
On the flip side, it is a misconception that all socially conscious companies are using only conscious practices in everyday work. Even though your core product or service may be mission-focused, if you carefully think through your daily routine, you can still find a way to innovate. Perhaps there is room for an employee-run garden. Or maybe your employer still serves lunch in Styrofoam containers. Setting up an employee ride share is another option. You can make an impact and meet other peers with similar values.
An intriguing trend is a recent decrease in average pay disparity between CEO salaries and the salary of the lowest-paid person at the company. Although the current average of 271 times higher pay sounds high, it has been steadily decreasing from a high of 376 times higher in 2000 and was 286 times in 2015. We are still a long way from the 20-to-1 disparity of the 1960s or the 59-to-1 delta of 1989. Salary transparency and more conscious thought at the top level of a company, combined with a war for top talent, should reduce this pay disparity even further.
One assumption people make is that only certain sectors embrace good behavior. However, this philosophy is not restricted to an industry. Some industries are more conducive than others, true. For instance, it would be difficult for an oil company to be socially conscious unless it pivoted away from oil completely. On the other hand, the growing clean-energy industry is a perfect fit.
“I grew up in the energy space,” said Ryan Dings, chief operating officer and general counsel of Sunwealth (a clean-energy investment firm bringing commercial solar to scale). “As I progressed through my career, I realized my passion for clean energy and protecting the planet through commercial and industrial solar energy. Sunwealth’s mission is to provide commercial buildings with alternative energy while at the same time helping to create jobs for families in low-income communities. The mixture of a moral obligation to protect the planet and investing in social good is what inspired me to continue my career here.”
One characteristic that sets socially conscious companies apart from the everyday corporate setting is their ability to inspire the people who work there. “At the heart of St. Frank’s brand ethos is our commitment to creating quality jobs for artisans working in under-resourced settings all around the world,” said Meghan Dwyer, retail development manager for St. Frank, a San Francisco-based brand that sells ethically sourced home decor from local artisans worldwide. “I believe that it’s through job creation that we’ll be able to end the cycle of poverty, and I was inspired to work for a company that had social impact built into its core DNA.”
It can be tricky for people who crave instant gratification in problem solving to see how their effort can make a difference in solving large-scale social problems. So show them the impact. Use anecdotes of people your company has recently helped, so as to be transparent and inspire your employees.
“My passion for social business and love for fashion inspired me to work for Raven + Lily,” said Eliza Bellock, director of marketing for fair-trade fashion company Raven + Lily. “Sharing the stories of the women we are helping is truly a daily inspiration and motivates me to spread the message to people all over the world. The story, message and mission of the company is unique in the fast-paced fashion world and I was excited about growing the slow-fashion movement.”
Certain areas of the country have a higher number of socially conscious companies. That is one reason I feel very fortunate to live in Los Angeles. I am part of a community that wants to make a difference and be part of something more meaningful than putting in hours at a job. There are many ways to be a socially conscious company. Maybe you create an amazing culture so people are motivated and want to come to work. Make a conscious decision to care about humans, and you will find that more of them want to work harder to realize your vision.