There was a time when certain topics were considered taboo in the workplace, and there was a clear separation between your work and personal values. Not anymore.
Thanks to social media, we’ve entered the golden age of activism, where employees use hashtags and Slack groups to rally together for social causes. It’s been particularly prevalent in the tech world. Whether it was Google employees petitioning the company to not sign contracts with federal immigration agencies, or hundreds of workers from Google, Amazon, and other companies participating in climate-change marches, or employees raising concerns about diversity and inclusion, more people have been expressing their core values in the workplace.
Leaders at tech companies have been listening, contributing to a growing trend of corporate responsibility across all sectors. Even the Business Roundtable, an organization of 192 CEOs from the world’s largest companies, recently said the primary purpose of business is to benefit all stakeholders (customers, employees, and communities)—not just shareholders.
“Ten years ago, I’d go to a business conference and there wouldn’t be a single mention of purpose or social good,” said Susan McPherson, a sustainability expert and founder of McPherson Strategies. “Now, you can’t get away from it.”
How can you find a company that truly cares about what you value, and isn’t just using its mission statement as a marketing gimmick? Here are some things to consider.
Understand Your Core Values
Before you search for companies that support certain causes, you need to know the values that matter most to you. Though you may care about a lot of causes, every hashtag can’t be a core value; nor will any company prove effective in all areas of social responsibility.
Think about your top values—those you are unwilling to compromise on. Is it environmental sustainability? Is it a diverse and inclusive work culture? Pick your top two or three and look for companies that champion those values.
Do Your Research
There is more information available on businesses than ever before. If you do a little reading, you can find companies that are leading the efforts in particular social causes.
McPherson suggests starting on social media. If a company is doing social good, they’ll surely broadcast it on LinkedIn and Twitter. From there, you can dig into reports from organizations such as Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) or The Center for Corporate Citizenship that conduct studies on corporate social responsibility. Even business magazines and websites often have annual rankings on the most sustainable companiesor best companies to work for based on social responsibility.
You can also research a company’s annual report, which even includes suppliers and vendors they work with. “About 90 percent of large companies report on their environmental sustainability. They’re looking at water and energy usage. There’s massive amounts of data you can look into,” McPherson said.
Examine the Company’s Level of Involvement
Any company can tout a one-time social initiative or share how much they donated to charity in a certain year. But those are line items that can be cut from the budget next year. You want to find companies that are deeply involved with and committed to issues.
Look for companies that have partnerships with non-profit organizations and have social causes integrated with their business practices.
“For some companies, purpose isn’t a marketing gimmick. It’s woven into products and the development of companies,” McPherson said. “It’s not a separate department, it’s woven into every portion of the company.”
Talk with Peers and Employees
If you’re wary of a company’s public relations spin and want to know their real commitment to certain values, talk to employees at the company for a more objective point of view. If you don’t know anyone who works there, tap into your social network or reach out to employees on social media.
McPherson also suggests contacting employee resource groups at companies you’re applying to. These groups advocate for certain causes or represent minority groups at the company. Most large companies have these groups and you can often find information about them online.
Leverage the Power of Your Voice
If you want to work for a company that’s committed to your values, you can make a change at your current employer. Employees have more power than ever before, especially with low unemployment and high competition for talent.
“The rise of employee power is a new trend,” McPherson said. “Employees now have so much more power because companies realize it’s all about them. Employee resource groups kind of picked up the slack where unions used to be powerful.”
You can leverage this power by speaking up about the values you think your company should embrace. Talk about it with your co-workers and discuss it on a company Slack channel or intranet. Then, bring it to decision-makers in your company who oversee philanthropy or corporate responsibility. As you make your case, make sure you explain how it will help the company overall.
“You have to make it about the business,” McPherson said. “Show how it will help the business have a better reputation, hire better, help people stick around, and tie it back to business success.”
Remember, there are no perfect companies, but you can find some that are committed to making the world a better place. And when they fail in certain areas, employees have the power to hold them accountable.