Career Advice for MBAs Who Want to Make a Difference
After earning your degree, how do you find a company that cares about social change?
You care about the big problems facing society, and when you graduate with your MBA, you want to work for a company that shares your commitment to making a difference.
The good news is that many companies are stepping up, publically proclaiming a desire to do more than just make profits. These companies are committed to having a social impact, and they’re using innovative business practices to drive change. But determining whether a company is living up to its promises isn’t easy. To find out how prospective employees should assess a company’s social responsibility efforts, we asked two St. Edward’s experts — Professor of Management Kathleen Wilburn and Associate Professor of Management Brad Zehner — to discuss their own approaches.
There are an array of organizations that can help consumers and employees see how companies are doing in their corporate responsibility efforts. Wilburn uses standards developed by the international organization Global Reporting Initiative. Employees can also look for Benefit Corporations, which means companies agree to live up to high environmental and social standards. “The Benefit Corporation laws say the company must have a social benefit for the company — it’s not just about maximizing profits,” says Wilburn.
It’s easy for companies to write checks to charitable organizations without taking a hard look at their own practices, says Wilburn. What’s more, if their own profits head south, they may ditch the philanthropy entirely. That’s why it’s important to look for programs that are linked to the company’s primary work, like PepsiCo’s partnerships that bring clean water to more communities or Nike’s shoe recycling programs.
Recycling bins in the company cafeteria? Energy-efficient lighting in the conference room? Sometimes companies like to take credit for eco-friendly efforts that represent a tiny sliver of otherwise earth-unfriendly practices. Take a hard look at what a company is actually claiming to do — and look for stats and benchmarks, not just vague platitudes. “A lot of the sustainability reports that companies produce are little more than marketing pieces,” says Wilburn.
Companies may tout their eco-cred and humane practices on the company website, but Zehner always recommends that his prospective employees ask around about how companies live out those values. “Plenty of companies have social responsibility policies,” says Zehner. “But they have to be embedded in the culture, not just in the personnel manual.”
Companies who cater exclusively to shareholders may eke out more profits, but at what cost? “Companies who use that phrase may focus on one set of stakeholders — investors — to the exclusion of customers, employees, vendors, and the community,” says Zehner. “I like the more old-fashioned idea of stewardship: How can a company apply the skills of its employees to make everyone better off?”
The MBA program at St. Edward’s University builds highly sought-after skills in entrepreneurial thinking, social enterprise, innovation, global collaboration and business analytics — the areas business leaders need in today’s business world.
Erin Peterson is a freelance writer.