Doing Good (Authentically) as a Business
In an earlier post, we talked about the importance of matching public support for the LGBTQ+ community with internal practices, policies, and employee training that support diversity and inclusion. Psychological astute, relevant, engaging, and practical employee training also encourages a respectful and civil workplace, conflict management, negotiation, and emotional intelligence. Still another area that would benefit is fostering a workplace culture that complements an organization’s corporate social responsibility (CSR). These topics and others related to a “walk-the-walk” business culture are offered by Syntrio’s Business Skills Library.
The Value of CSR
After decades of CSR initiatives and research, strong evidence supports its positive impact on both profitability and employee engagement. Studies show that more than half of consumers will pay extra for products from companies they believe are socially responsible, and 67% of employees prefer to work for socially responsible companies. Furthermore, and in a telling statistic for politicians, recent data indicate that 55% of consumers think brands are more important than governments in terms of creating social change. This is especially true of millennial consumers, 81% of whom expect brands to make public statements about their corporate citizenship. The question then is not, “Should my company have a CSR program or public statements about its corporate citizenship?” Rather, leaders should be asking, “How can my company make CSR distinctly meaningful and impactful for our employees and the community/nation/world where we do business?”
CSR: Dark Clouds and Silver Linings
Younger and social-media-savvy consumers are more and more adept at spotting when proudly promoted CSR efforts ring false. When companies make public statements about their values or take a stance on a social issue, they risk criticism if their ethics record or internal culture does not reflect their external marketing. A recent AdAge magazine article summarizes this discrepancy brilliantly in a discussion of the recent “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick: “This campaign is great for Nike’s business. However, by addressing the reasons why Kaepernick was kneeling in the first place – racist policing, unacceptably high rates of incarceration of African-Americans and economic exploitation, Nike would be even more successful.” The article notes that Nike has had issues with labor rights violations in its factories and internal complaints about discrimination and harassment of female employees. Similarly, Google regularly topped the list of companies with the best corporate responsibility reputations, yet has been mired in controversy over accusations that employees who advocate for diversity are subjected to harassment by fellow employees.
On the flip side, many companies benefit from creative, focused CSR initiatives perceived internally and publicly as authentic and aligned with the organization’s culture and value. For example, Etsy’s guiding principles include, “We embrace differences” and “We lead with optimism.” It matches these values, in part, through its Advocacy programs which focus directly on issues that impact their sellers including net neutrality. Airbnb reports, “Our new Community Commitment, stronger Nondiscrimination Policy and the development of a permanent team dedicated to fighting bias while encouraging diversity are just a few of the steps we’re taking to fight bias.” As part of this commitment, Airbnb received attention in 2018 for allowing hosts to refuse to rent to white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The company also has a program called Open Homes which connects refugees with hosts willing to provide them with free short-term housing. Both Etsy and Airbnb’s actions are directly connected to the company’s business model and focused on specific areas of impact rather than just making platitudes of support.
What can companies learn from Nike, Google, Etsy, and Airbnb? Make sure your public, internal values, and employee training align. Positive change is possible, but only when employees have awareness of their own biases and emotions, know when and how to respond to negative behaviors, and fully appreciate the benefits of a civil and respectful workplace that transcend an organization’s borders to serve its community—all of which can happen with investment in comprehensive training and other initiatives. Not only will you create better relationships with your customers and employees, your company’s reputation for having a positive social impact will be built on a solid foundation.