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#ChamberBreakers: The truth behind CSR in an evolving world

·3-min read

Once regarded as a nice add-on to a firm’s marketing strategy, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has grown to encompass corporate citizenship, social impact, and diversity and inclusion. CSR’s importance has been driven in large part by consumers with the means and the will to hold businesses to higher value standards.

Now in its third season, the #ChamberBreakers podcast series is unpacking capitalism, to see whether it is broken and what we can do as businesses to pave a more equitable future for all.

In this episode, Lianna Brinded, a director at Yahoo and Xavier White, CSR and innovation marketing manager for Verizon Business, talk to Susan McPherson, founder and CEO of communications consultancy McPherson Strategies, and the author of “The Lost Art of Connecting.”

She says businesses need to understand that CSR is not something they should “maybe” tackle: “It needs to be embedded, whether you are a startup or a Fortune 500 multinational.”

“Corporate responsibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) needs to be baked into the business,” McPherson says. “It needs to be part of systemic change that companies are enacting.”

She likes to think of CSR as an octopus: “The octopus has a brilliant brain, but the brain goes out to all its tentacles.” That means it should infuse everything from recruitment, to supply chain operations, and communications. “If you are only putting it in marketing, you are greenwashing, you are pinkwashing.”

In terms of how rapidly CSR has evolved, McPherson points to how CEOs used to limit themselves to “chequebook philanthropy,” but now we are seeing corporate leaders taking a vocal stand on divisive issues, such as voting rights, women's reproductive rights, and LGBTQ rights.

Read more: #ChamberBreakers: Why capitalism is broken and what’s the solution?

“When we had the racial reckoning [after the murder of George Floyd], you had this enormous outcry of companies stepping up saying, ‘we are going to be better, we're going to hire more people of colour, we're going to promote more people of colour,’” she says. “The question of course now is how many have stuck to that — and I'm seeing results that some are and some aren't.”

In terms of environmental regulation, companies used to do the minimum to make sure they weren't fined and sustainability reports were unheard of. Now the power of unfiltered, real-time news and social media means they can no longer hide their actions.

“You have transparency, you have a smarter consuming public, you have the fact that climate change is real, you also have younger people who are growing up wanting to work for companies that they perceive to be making purpose part of the ethos of the business,” McPherson says.

“Additionally, we see that companies who are embedding corporate responsibility, corporate innovation, DEI in the ethos of their company are much more likely to attract and retain employees”

As well as urging employees to push their leaders to improve CSR efforts, McPherson says companies should ask consumers what they care about: “Companies who put blinders on are missing tremendous opportunities to learn from consumers who are, for the most part, trying to do their best.”

The six-part video series is also a podcast and is out every Monday. Next week’s episode features Dr Roopa Dhatt, co-founder of Women in Global Health.

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