We recently came across an article in FastCompany addressing the following question in the wake of the Google memo heard 'round the world and the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia: “What is the role of business in addressing society’s ills?” The writer goes on to conclude that “every business, of any scale, is a platform for social impact” and that “business leaders can attempt to be agnostic, but the reality is that our actions and decisions have ramifications that ripple through our organizations and the individuals, families, and communities with which we interact.” And though doing the right thing is often a complicated and arduous task, we should not run away from it because our words and actions have meaning. He argues that making these choices is what leadership is all about.
This immediately resonated with everyone here at Werk, especially our co-founder Anna Auerbach who moved to the U.S. from the former USSR at 8 years old on refugee status. In addition to sheer hard work and determination, she credits the charity of others for the opportunities she had and where she is today.
But like many people, Anna started her career thinking she could either make money or make a difference. After graduating from undergrad and starting her career at McKinsey and Co., the world seemed very black and white. It wasn’t until she graduated from Harvard Business School and focused on social enterprise and philanthropy consulting that she realized the wall between private business and social activism has all but come down. In recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of a new type of for-profit business model in which products do more than provide a service or fulfill a common need—they provide a public good.
It’s no surprise that purpose-driven companies with clearly defined social missions are outperforming their counterparts—these companies also tend to be more conscious about racial and gender diversity, workplace flexibility, and other cultural initiatives that are linked to economic growth and profitability. Companies without social identities run the risk of being left behind or forced to adapt. Today’s job seekers want to work for brands that stand for something, and today’s consumers can be selective about the products and services they put their money behind. Millennials are hesitant to trust traditional marketing and keen to know when a brand is or isn’t being authentic. Thanks to the power of social media, they also know immediately when companies fail to “do the right thing,” and as a result those companies face very real, sometimes fatal, reputational and financial consequences.
At the heart of every decision we make here at Werk is a commitment to building a better future for all people. With so much at stake in today’s world, from the threat of climate change to the challenges facing immigrants and people of color, social awareness isn't just good for business, it's a moral imperative.
CEOs especially have the unique opportunity to use their platform to encourage dialogue, foster a sense of community, and become thoughts leaders in their areas of expertise. They have the ability to decide whether to source sustainable materials or partner with charitable organizations. They can foster environments that embrace diversity and prioritize the advancement of women and people of color. They can help create a new era in which job seekers no longer have to choose between making money and making a difference—they can do both.
And that's a win win for everyone.