How Do Corporate Social Responsibility Leaders Help Talent Strategy?

Corporate social responsibility leaders can help companies align mission to actions, thus helping employees find purpose at work.
corporate social responsibility

Shannon Schuyler’s career was not always in corporate social responsibility. She started her time at PwC about 24 years ago, beginning in human capital and recruiting roles, moving to marketing and sales, then eventually beginning their corporate social responsibility efforts on 2008. Back then, the recession meant attitudes toward big businesses were bad. “There was a need for organizations to say, ‘No, in actuality, there’s a lot of good that we do,’ ” she said.

Now, Schuyler is chief purpose officer and principal for responsible business leadership at PwC and president of the PwC Charitable Foundation, and she has observed the profession evolve both at her employer, and at other organizations.

Schuyler said that leaders in corporate social responsibility can sit in different parts of their organizations, including marketing, human capital or government affairs, but there is no guiding structure. “Based upon where you sit, your programs take on that look and feel, and there’s no one way that seems to be the one that has risen to the top,” she said.

Most who oversee this role are full-time employees, but small startups are likely to fill it part time. Few corporate social responsibility leaders report to their CEO, Schuyler said; most report to general counsel or to the CFO.

The backgrounds of these leaders also lack a common thread. As this practice grows, though, Schuyler said that people with degrees in business could have a leg up but need a strategic focus. “It’s not hard to find people who want to do good,” she said. “It’s hard to find people who can connect all the dots and build something when you do have limited resources and you’re really trying to align it to a business versus the business aligning itself to you.”

The practice of corporate social responsibility leaders is just that: to connect corporate missions to what they do externally in local communities, said Gwendolyn F. Turner, a corporate social responsibility and diversity and inclusion leader based in Chicago who has consulted with Fortune 100 companies. This could include charitable giving, but it can also go much further. People in large corporations tend to have a wealth of expertise, making them great candidates to mentor children at local schools through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America or United Way Worldwide, she said. They can also be ambassadors of education, showing those who lack access to top schools that they, too, can have a similar career path.

Local corporate social responsibility initiatives can take other forms, such as purchasing goods from local businesses that need support. Finally, businesses can help grassroots organizations convince legislators to change policies to aid community growth, Turner said.

Results of Responsibility

“What CSR professionals are charged with doing is really taking the work that they do and connecting it back to community engagement and also ensuring that the work that they do is marketed to communities and that it has an overall impact on their business bottom line,” Turner said. The end goal of corporate social responsibility is to have a better corporate reputation, which leads to more customers, increased legislator partnership and boosting employee engagement. Employees also stay at the company for longer periods of time and tend to recommend the business to friends, she said.

Executives tend to agree with this. According to CECP, an organization that studies corporate social engagement, 66 percent of responding CEOs “considered it their companies’ role to lead progress toward long-term social improvement,” as stated in its 2016 “Giving in Numbers” study. And those efforts and charitable giving can mean higher profits. Those that increased their total givings by 10 percent or more saw 4.1 percent higher revenues and 7.6 percent higher pretax profits than other companies.

CFOs are likely to want to understand the return on investment of these efforts, though PwC’s Schuyler said that still, in contrast to other efforts, this practice is given a bye in terms of return on investment. But companies can track how corporate social responsibility impacts retention, engagement and quality of work, as these areas are measurable, she said. “Most of us have been very focused on making sure that there’s some type of return on investment, and that’s kind of the holy grail within CSR.”

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For Koya Leadership Partners, a national executive search firm focused on mission-driven organizations based in Newburyport, Massachusetts, corporate social responsibility is a core part of the business model, but it is not designated to a certain department or even a single person. Instead, employees decide on their nonprofit to support, said Katie Bouton, founder and CEO of the firm.

But first, they must review financials of the organization, meet with its leaders to understand the impact of the organization and raise additional funds beyond the $1,500 contribution from Koya. Bouton said this model works particularly well for them, as Koya’s clients are nonprofits. By having employees go through this vetting process, they can better meet with similar clients down the road. The giving is then aligned with their development, making the program especially effective for Koya and its 56 employees. They feel rewarded and are also better at their jobs, Bouton said.

That success reveals itself in employee engagement scores, which the company gathers annually, Bouton said. In the past five years, retention rose by 10 percent; engagement similarly rose 9 points in three years. “If employees feel like they’re working at a company that has a mission and a purpose — and they’re part of that and can clearly see that impact that their company is making and they are making — they’re likely to be happier and stay longer,” she said.

The Future of CSR

How Koya Leadership Partners practices corporate social responsibility could be the way of the future. “I think CSR [in the traditional sense] is dead or about to be,” Bouton said. Rather than having departments for the practice, the concept will likely be embedded into the company culture and business decisions. “It’s going to be the way the company shows up in the world around social issues, in addition to the more traditional activities,” she said.

At PwC, getting corporate social responsibility embedded in company culture was part of the strategy with changing the messaging from “corporate social responsibility” to “responsible business leadership,” Schuyler said. The “social” part of corporate social responsibility led some people to think the efforts would simply be philanthropic instead of strategic, so the company is focusing efforts on larger societal issues, while more traditional corporate social responsibility efforts happen organically at various offices, Schuyler said.

PwC tends to focus on education, skills gaps, financial wellness and technical skills and more; these items tend to not cause much controversy. Still, the company has to take a stand on certain divisive issues such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, #MeToo and same-sex marriage because they are business imperatives, Schuyler said. “For us, we look specifically on the business implications of those social decisions. If we can’t have our best talent live in a certain state because they can’t live there with their significant other, their spouse who is of the same sex, that’s a problem,” she said. “That means we can’t do our jobs.”

“The workforce will demand that this happens,” Bouton added. “So either companies get on board and learn how to be prepared with an answer, or they won’t get the top talent, and they definitely won’t keep the top talent.”

Customers want business to help change society, as well. “Every company has to decide where they’re willing to put a stake in the ground. We’re seeing that a lot in the news,” Bouton said. When Dick’s Sporting Goods ended sales of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, many analysts warned that shares would tank. The opposite happened, with stock prices surging 27 percent and exceeding quarterly sales and profits, according to CNN.

“The business has a responsibility to have a social purpose and mission, in addition to revenue generation,” Bouton said. “For me, corporate social responsibility feels like an amazing and wonderful opportunity to leverage the impact of the business for greater good. We provide a great and valuable service that we get paid for, but if we can use this business to also change the world, all the better.”

Lauren Dixon is a senior editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.