Corporate Responsibility, isn’t that all just a cynical marketing ploy?
Many people are very cynical towards corporates that undertake Corporate Responsibility (CR) work. Given that two of the world’s largest bankruptcies occurred at companies that also had very high profile CR programmes (Enron and Lehman Brothers) one might be justified in wondering whether such initiatives are a sign of strength or a means to distract attention from problems elsewhere.
Why bother with CR?
There is no point pretending that CR initiatives do not bring business benefits – they often do! Many clients, particularly in the public sector, ask for evidence of their supplier’s commitment to CR as part of their tendering process. A lack of CR activity can often result in no contract being awarded, even if other parts of the tender, for example the price or quality of what is on offer, are strong. In one sense then having a CR programme can be seen as a ‘box ticking’ exercise.
Increasingly organisations are also looking to see if there is a direct casual link between offering their employees the opportunity to get involved in CR activities and more widely measured factors such as productivity and employee engagement. Again the main motivator here is self-interest; offer CR to the employees and watch the profits increase! This research is still at an embryonic stage, so it would be wrong to draw any strong conclusions about CR’s impact on ‘the bottom line’, but anecdotally many employees indicate that they are positive about CR programmes even if they do not actively participate themselves.
What do candidates think?
Despite the challenging jobs market facing students, we know from the conversations that we have on campus, that many students still cite CR as a significant factor when they are looking to differentiate between employers. It is also a topic that is frequently mentioned in application form answers and at interview.
While we would never advise CR activity to be the primary tool you use to differentiate between firms, it can help you get a feel for a firm’s culture. For this reasons the Graduate Team thought we would talk about some of the long-standing and more recent CR activities that Pinsent Masons has been involved with. Over the coming weeks we will try to feature a CR initiative from each of our offices. For those of you who cannot wait this long you may also be interested to look at a copy of our most recent CR report.
A personal perspective
Our CR programme ‘Starfish’ focuses on ‘Inspiring young lives’, this is the common thread that ties all our CR activities together, whether they are taking place in the UK or overseas. To illustrate this point, since joining the firm a little under 18 months ago I have taken part in a ‘world of work day’ at a local primary school, competed in a dragon boat race to raise money for a local childrens’ hospice and have become a school governor at a local secondary school. Most recently, I was given the opportunity to both design and run an event on employability skills for a group of students who attend one of the local secondary schools in Leeds. The firm has worked with the school for a number of years and typically our work has centred around improving numeracy and literacy. This event was different though and instead covered: the benefits of higher education (and the writing of personal statements), alternative career routes for school leavers and concluded with a session looking at CV writing and interview skills. This is the sort of advice that many of us receive from friends and family members (and that we take for granted) but without it students can often fail to meet their potential.
Organising the event around the day job was challenging but I really feel it had a positive impact on those students who took part, and it would be great to see one or more of the students returning in the future either on our school work experience programme or perhaps even as a trainee solicitor. Whether the firm ultimately benefits from this activity we shall have to wait and see, but on a personal level I certainly have.