Welcome to our series of interviews with leading female CSR practitioners where we are learning about what inspires these women and how they found their way to careers in sustainability. Read the rest of the series here.
TriplePundit: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.
Trisha Cunningham: I tell people all the time I have the best job at Texas Instruments. As Chief Citizenship Officer, I help TI and our employees make a difference in our community and our business every day. In my 27-year journey with the company, my experience working in global marketing, communications and public affairs at the product to corporate levels as well as community leadership has given me unique experiences that have prepared me for this role. I co-lead a cross-functional Citizenship Strategy Team with leaders across the company that represent our key focus areas including company operations, product stewardship, environmental responsibility, employee well-being, community commitment, responsible advocacy and corporate governance.
I have an outstanding team around the world that inspires our people, improves our communities and positively impacts business through corporate citizenship programs. It’s our goal to make corporate citizenship a competitive advantage for TI whether through assessing and addressing ways we can improve our business operations and transparency through reporting and communications, or investing in strong community engagements with employees and philanthropy.
3p: How has the sustainability program evolved at your company?
TC: It’s been part of our culture dating back to our founders over 80 years ago. They knew that strong companies build strong communities and strong communities build strong companies. That is still our mantra today. Not only has TI been a strong community partner, but we’ve instilled a strong culture of ethics, values and integrity. We were one of the first companies with a formal ethics office back in 1961. We continue to increase our transparency and work in collaboration with others in our industry on best practices. While we’ve produced environmental reports for over 15 years, we just completed our 7th citizenship report using the Global Reporting Initiative’s guidelines. It’s a journey.
Our primary philanthropic priority is education, as it is the major concern of sustainability that impacts economic vitality and a strong workforce no matter where we have operations. We have contributed $150 million toward improving education programs in the last five years. In the U.S., our primary focus is on helping students be proficient in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Outside the U.S., more emphasis is on access to quality education for all students.
3p: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey, and how.
TC: I’m a first-generation college graduate that joined TI right out of college. Many of my early years at the company were focused internally. TI invested in a women’s leadership development program for me that provided me access to external mentors. The consistent theme of these outstanding women mentors was that I was too insular to TI – I needed to develop my external network. It was these external connections and experiences that evolved my passion for citizenship and sustainability. It allowed me to learn from others outside the company and convene the right people inside the company to move forward on practices that improve our reputation and sustainability while positively impacting our communities.
3p: What is the best advice you have ever received?
TC: I was taught from an early age to treat others how I want to be treated no matter their title or background. My mother would always say, “They put their pants on one leg at a time just like I do.” This has led me to develop a respect and appreciation for diversity of people, thought and cultures. These experiences energize me and help make our citizenship programs better when we think broader.
Second, take advantage of good opportunities presented to you. Instead of automatically saying, ‘I’m too busy to take on that additional project or job,’ think about why you were approached and what value it would provide. Someone had confidence that you were uniquely qualified to take on the role, so think twice before passing on a potentially good opportunity. The next time, you may not be offered the chance.
3p: Can you share a recent accomplishment you are especially proud of?
TC: In 2012, I was awarded the Corporate Social Responsibility Executive of the Year by the Center for Nonprofit Management. This was such a humbling and meaningful award as it was my team who secretly nominated me. The award selection committee presented it to me as a result of longstanding support of the community as well as my role as a founder of a network of corporate citizenship executives whose goal is to share best practices and collaborate on common initiatives to have greater impact.
On a more personal note, I’ve been a Girl Scout leader for 11 years. Our troop graduated seven outstanding young women this year who will be continuing their leadership journey as they move on to college. They exemplify the Girl Scouts’ traits of courage, confidence and character. I am very proud of all of them.
3p: If you had the power to make one major change at your company or in your industry, what would it be?
TC: A girl can dream, right? Every employee would be engaged in citizenship and sustainability. It would be top-of-mind while drinking a cup of coffee from a reusable mug or designing semiconductors that consume so little power they could operate off of a grape (yes, it can be done). Service in the community would be seen as an opportunity to develop leadership and team skills personally, in addition to the positive impact they are making. Our programs would be a competitive advantage for business and employees would love working for a company that has genuine concern for its people, communities and environment while setting the standards for the best business practices.
3p: Describe your perfect day.
TC: Starting with some quiet time and prayer helps me prepare for the perfect work day. Breakfast at a locally-owned dive chatting or brainstorming with someone about how we can improve STEM education or other citizenship issues would be next on the agenda. Back to the office for our citizenship strategy team meeting, where we will discuss the new G4 reporting standards and how we continue our journey of sustainable operations and reporting. Over lunch, our local corporate citizenship network identifies an area of common strategic importance, defines desired outcomes and puts a plan in place to achieve collaboratively. In the afternoon, a celebration of TI volunteers recognizes the substantial community impact they’ve made by doubling global volunteer hours and giving. Then, I would head out with a group of volunteers to a local school or university where the conversation with students is about their future and how they can make a difference. On the way home, I would hit a Zumba class before enjoying a healthy dinner with my husband. We’d Skype with our kids who are at college before collapsing… until the next perfect day.