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Mind the Gap - Business is becoming political and personal (part 2 of 4)

How companies do business is no longer a black box. Among their suppliers and along their supply chains businesses are seeking out and choosing companies that strengthen both their competitive and social position. Adding and not jeopardising their aim of being a responsible and purpose-driven business. Depending on their place in the system (along the continuum of being a criminal or good citizen see part 1.), this will increasingly define who will work with who. Who will buy from whom? And who will work for who.

In this article (part two of four), we will look at the changes in society and in business that have influenced the workplace (part 1. and 2.) and provide insights about what is needed to bridge the gap (part 3. and 4.)

Part 1. A generational gap and showing your true colours

Part 2. Business is becoming political and personal

Part 3. The missing elements

Part 4. A generation of action

Part 2: Business is Political

What do you do when Extinction Rebellion protests on the doorstep of your company?

How do you think employees show up at work the day after they receive an Avaaz email asking them to boycott products that their company produces? What happens with employee’s loyalty when Extinction Rebellion protests on their doorstep? The sustainable and social agenda of companies have become a political agenda.

Public campaigns and calls for change are often initiated and joined by workplace activists. They bring awareness and activism into the business. It’s not an easy position and they can find themselves in a conflict of loyalty between the greater good (sustainability, inclusion, health, and justice) and the wish to be a good and loyal professional with a stable income. We see people trying very hard to stay true to their own values. The outcome is not always pretty. We have examples of people quitting, being expelled, bullied, burned out or becoming a whistleblower.

Pressure works

Some examples of companies being urged by campaigns or public opinion to change their policies:

  • IT companies using components and materials from countries under dictatorship have been listed and made public

  • investors and banks are urged to stop investing in mining, dams, and fossil fuels

  • law firms, consultants and advertising agencies have been publicly challenged to stop working for big polluters

  • fossil fuel companies, consulting firms and big-pharmacy have been brought to justice by activist (and activist-lawyers) for knowingly harming health and environment

  • employers in eg. sports, film, and fashion have been brought to disgrace and justice. The #metoo campaign exposed misconduct and protests

  • The 2022 WorldCup showed the lack of safe working conditions and sponsors were urged to stop being part of it.

  • The tobacco-case (2006 ) to compensate cancer patients, is ground-breaking; tabacco companies are being held responsible for sickness and cost to society

  • In 2022 for the first time a gun-manufacturer, Remmington, was held responsible and must pay victims a compensation, for a school-shooting with one of their fire arms. According to the law-suit their marketing was against consumer laws.

  • Shell must pay communities for polluting their land.

  • Big-Pharma has been held responsible for addiction to their painkillers.

Let’s go back to our young professionals. They come into the business with a mindset (both individual and professional) that makes them question their relationship and responsibility to the greater good of society. And, as I can observe first-hand with my kids (in their early and late twenties), sustainability in education is big Google for university education sustainability and 555.000.000 referals pop-up. They are trained to go for the solutions that will make companies future and planet proof. Organisational trends like >>circular design, >>waste and energy reduction, >>multiple stakeholder orientation and >>sustainable customer-preferences are natural in their vocabulary and the way they studied business and finance, product and service design.

A sustainable mindset needs alignment

With this sustainable mindset young employees enter the workplace each day. They long to commit their working hours to adding what they perceive as real value to the business and society. For them a new economy is emerging with themes and solutions around sustainability, inclusion and justice that need to be implemented in marketing, operations, strategy and governance.

Companies are becoming more aware of what it takes to recruit the right talent these days. Recently companies use green-hire promises in their recruitment; YES! we have strong values, and you will be on the green team, NO! you do not have to work for certain clients.

YES! we have strong values, and you will be on the green team, NO! you do not have to work for certain clients.

But as the stories go, the new recruits feel cheated. This Deloitte’s study has researched and found the existence of the purpose-gaps between communication on purpose and acting on purpose. These ‘green’ promises end in frustration if not properly matched with reality in the actual job. Green-hiring becomes the employee equivalent of Green-washing.

The young generation employees are not stupid, it is wise to take them seriously and businesses should get their act together! By being open and transparent about the challenges. By being generous with support. And by engaging in intergenerational dialogues to shed a light on generational differences in order make all employees (both young and seasoned) aware of their role to change the system.

Author: Véronique Swinkels.

SDG activist. Co-founder, trainer and coach at the Undercover Activist.


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