September 20, 2020

How genuine social responsibility policies can help you land top talent

David Jenkins, Managing Director of Vertical Advantage, explains why social responsibility policies in the consumer sphere should be a lead in your employer value proposition and drive your talent attraction strategy.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR). You might not know it by its official title, but you’ll surely be able to recognise it when you see it.

Perhaps your office ‘went green’ and ditched the paper memos (sustainability is one of the 2019 trends to watch out for in the FMCG sphere)? That’s corporate social responsibility in action. 

Or maybe your employer started offering perks like free gym memberships? You guessed it, that’s also CSR in action. 

Big name brands in particular tend to lean into CSR too, making their logos multicoloured in support of Pride, for example. 

CSR is broad and wide-ranging but, overall, focuses on enacting positive change. Unsurprisingly, “for millennials and Generation Z, socially responsible companies are even more important”, and this is having an impact in recruitment. 

Recruitment and Corporate Social Responsibility

As recruiters working in the consumer sphere, we’ve seen a definite increase in candidates gravitating towards job vacancies at organisations which lead with CSR policies. As such, we’re also looking at our new and current clients, to see how they weave CSR and diversity into their recruitment strategy in an effective way. Typically, that involves diversity in shortlists, but we’re also keen to see exactly what the brand is doing to attract talent in the first place. 

For example, FMCG giant Unilever really recognise the need to nail CSR. Not only does it have diversity and inclusion policies in place, which makes sense for a company whose clientele is 70% women, it also champions initiatives like Loop. In fact, over 50% of Unilever’s management in the UK and Ireland are women and the company leads with policies surrounding the wellbeing of its employees, as well as sustainability. It should come as no surprise that candidates flock for positions with employers like Unilever, attracting top talent by way of progressive CSR policies then. 

Meanwhile, L’oreal–another sought after employer brand–is also committed to authentic CSR, working to reduce their carbon footprint and championing diversity at all levels of the company. This, naturally, filters through to their advertising too, which most recently promoted the hiring of women in leadership roles.

Then there’s startups and SME’s like Bagboard, who have literally built corporate social responsibility into their business model, by using advertising to fund the elimination of plastic bags. (It’s never a bad idea for big brands to take a leaf out of the book of the little guy when it comes to CSR and marketing either.) We’re seeing more and more startups weave ‘doing good’ into the fabric of their business and as such their hiring DNA becomes focused on not only the skills to do the right job but also the right values to go on the SME’s journey.

From a recruitment perspective then, it’s clear that authentic CSR policies are key facet in attracting top talent, especially as members of Gen Z filter into the workplace. It also highlights that companies who aren’t participating in or publicising their CSR policies may be missing out on excellent candidates, something which many leading consumer brands are working hard to catch up with SME counter parts and market leaders in other sectors such as consultancy and finance. 

Corporate social responsibility can be tough to get right 

However, while CSR when done right can really help attract talent, it can be tough to demonstrate real authenticity. 

How can you tell when it’s coming from a place of sincerity or from a place of profit margins? The distinction isn’t always clear. 

As such, it’s really easy to get wrong, something to which several massive companies (like Pepsi) can attest. Its Kendall Jenner campaign received immediate backlash for co-opting narratives of marginalized companies, something which can be a huge problem in the CSR arena. 

Of course, this doesn’t mean organisations and companies shouldn’t take some form of social responsibility though, whether that’s by planting trees to replace paper usage or funding LGBTQI+ charities. After all, as Cat Gazzoli, of baby food brand Piccolo, rightly asserts: “Millennial consumers want more from companies now than just a product, which is why businesses such as ourselves that have a purpose beyond just profit are doing so well.”

Do it because you care

It boils down to this: corporate social responsibility shouldn’t be done for the profit margins, it should be done because you actually care. (Remember that 81% of brands could disappear and European consumers wouldn’t be bothered, while consumers are more loyal to brands that care.)

Take Nike. They infuriated customers into burning their products (their already purchased products) and threatening to boycott the brand. Why? Because they launched an ad campaign with footballer and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick. And the Nike campaign, which seems about as authentic as you can get in the realm of big-business corporate social responsibility, also paid off literally. (For all the claims of boycott, the brand netted a cool $6 billion after its Kaepernick ads.)

The long and short of it? 

Do embark on corporate social responsibility initiatives but be sure to do so because you want to see a change and are committed to pushing for it internally. And remember that while both employees and customers are quick to see through a cash grab disguised as a corporate social responsibility campaign, genuine CSR concerns will attract top talent, and quickly. As experienced recruiters, we can attest to that! 

Moving forward, let’s rewrite that narrative and put our money where our mouths are, because actions speak louder than performative ad campaigns!