While the pandemic grabbed the majority of headlines last year, issues surrounding social justice weren’t far behind. Now, the impact of the protests in the streets is being felt in the boardrooms of companies nationwide.
“Companies are thinking about some of these things, especially around diversity, equity and inclusion issues. It’s becoming clear that what they might have been doing in the past and how they’ve been approaching it was not sufficient,” says Tom Knowlton, founder of CSR Talent Group, a New York-based on-demand corporate social responsibility talent marketplace. “There was a general awakening for people and corporations in this country around what it means to have an impact and really move the needle on issues that maybe they didn’t take seriously before.”
Building upon more than two decades spent in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) space, Knowlton says he launched his business this year to provide resources for companies looking to ramp up and maximize their efforts at a time when it is more important than ever to do so.
“Corporate social responsibility is mainstream in that every company is aware of it and knows they have to do it. But there’s still a lot of potential for companies to do more and to do better,” he tells the Business Journal. “What’s changing is the way people are putting pressure on companies, including employees. People want to work for companies that align with their values and are doing good things.”
A recent report by the nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility says that younger workers, specifically millennials, who became the largest generation in the labor force as of 2016, are more likely than previous generations to seek employment at companies that demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility. It goes on to say that millennials will make up 75 percent of the global workforce in 2025, which means that companies looking to hire and retain the next generation of talent need to invest in and communicate about their social responsibility initiatives.
“I’ve seen it in my work, you can almost feel the culture of a company when you go in. You can get a sense of their commitment to CSR, whether it’s a green washing or a PR effort and frankly, it’s really dependent on the leadership,” Knowlton says. “It seems obvious but if the CEO’s not engaged, not committed, not taking it seriously, senior leaders see that, and that lack of sincerity permeates the entire company.”
Conversely, he says that in companies where leadership is fully engaged in CSR efforts, even if they aren’t fully up and running, he feels confident that commitment will lead to progress.
“You know they are committed to doing something, even if they’re not yet sure how to do it the right way,” he says, adding that shifts in education are helping the overall CSR landscape. “I’m hopeful because a lot of the young people coming out of business school have gone through an entirely different type of curriculum where this is integrated with some of their courses. The thinking is different.”
To quickly and effectively address a social responsibility goal, Knowlton says his company works with clients to find experienced personnel who are ready to work on day one.
“I want to be able to put in front of them four or five people that I vetted and that meet our criteria and our requirements. They have to have been a consultant for a certain number of years, they have to have done work in this space with other companies,” he says of his talent pool, all of whom work as independent contractors.
“We’re really looking for people with 15 to 20 years of experience because that’s what a lot of these companies need. They don’t necessarily need junior folks to do research. If we can find them that expert who can do it efficiently, quickly, affordably and in a way that is a little less painful for the company because of the time allocation and the cost, that’s our goal.”
Knowlton says companies need to go forward with their CSR strategy as a key operating factor.
“Companies are obviously struggling with budgets, their business model may need some tinkering. But the pressures on them from their stakeholders are not going away.”
CSR website: csrtalentgroup.com