Responsible Careers: From Concept To Practice
Responsible Careers: We have all heard that the next generation of business leaders is interested in responsible careers, and wants to work for companies that make business decisions while taking into account the social and environmental impacts of these decisions. For example, in her webcast about CSR and the next generation of business leaders, Jo Mackness, Executive Director of the Haas Center of Responsible Business presented data that suggested that 97% of respondents (Haas MBA students) were seeking a job that enabled them to make an impact on the world. Furthermore, 77% consider social impact when choosing an employer, and 56% would refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation. She also touched upon data that showed that these future leaders seem to also be responsible consumers: 89% responded that they would switch brands if it were linked to a cause, and 69% considered CSR reputation when deciding where to shop. These studies might suggest that these future business leaders could really transform how business is done and that will integrate social impact and environmental responsibility when making decisions as business leaders and consumers. So we are all set, we just have to wait for these wonderful new leaders to take over, and we can trust than when it's done, business will be done better, right?
Well not quite... No matter what generation you belong to, given these conceptual questions, wouldn't you respond just the same? When asked: 'Would you switch brands if it were linked to a cause you care about? I am sure that the majority of people (independent of age) would answer yes. However, if asked 'Would you switch from your iPhone to another smart phone company if the other phone company gave all its proceeds to the cause you cared most about?' Aha, that is a different kind of question. From watching iPhone users' practices from afar, my guess would be that most people would say 'no, thanks'. The point here is: If asked a conceptual question, most of us will answer with what we consider 'the right thing to do'. If asked a practical question with implications on how we currently do things, most of us will resist change for multiple reasons.
Thinking about specific situations can have tremendous implications for students and professionals interested in responsible careers. For example, based on the survey cited above, 56% of respondents indicated that they refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation. Now to practice: Imagine that you are an MBA student, and as all your classmates, you submitted your resume to be considered for an internship interview. In the fall, you met with representatives from IKE Inc, and the recruiter indicated that you were a great fit and the recruiter wanted to keep in touch with you. But you did not submit your resume for IKE Inc, because the company has a really sketchy track record in terms of transparency. Furthermore, environmental groups have shown that IKE inc is dumping large amounts of chemical waste in rivers, a fact that IKE Inc has always denied. Two weeks later, you haven't gotten a single interview with the companies you submitted your resume for, but IKE Inc. selected you for an internship interview. Will you decline the interview? Maybe the few MBA students truly interested in responsible careers would. But, in most business schools, the implicit system revolves around the notion that the 'best of the best' get hired early, and by big companies. If you get hired later by a company that nobody knows about, you are clearly not among the best of the best in your class. Given this context, most MBAs would go ahead with the interview. Furthermore, rather than taking the risk to compete for internships with companies that align with their values, many MBA students would probably accept the IKE Inc. internship if their offer with IKE Inc expires before they hear back from other companies.
So whether you are a student or a professional interested in responsible careers, I would encourage you to go from concept to practice when you think about your next responsible career move. Responsible business careers are often about the practical tradeoffs we make between our values and our paycheck. Want work/life balance? We all do. But would you take a pay cut of $20,000 if your employer would give you the opportunity to volunteer 5 days a year in your community? If you are currently employed by BP or a Big Oil company, would you accept a 15% pay cut if you were recruited by an alternative energy company?
Let's discuss the practical tradeoffs you made or are making between your values and your paycheck as you build your responsible career!