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Gloria Johns headshot

The State of Corporate Social Responsibility? It’s Quite a White One, Actually

By Gloria Johns

The Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP) recently produced a first-of-its-kind research study by race and seniority of corporate social responsibility (CSR) professionals. And the results of the study, titled, “Advancing Equity in the Corporate Social Impact Profession,” paint a dismal picture of some CSR teams representing the opposite of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) they advocate for in the workplace and the community. 

Of approximately 1200 surveys distributed, 208 were returned. Survey data also came from three focus groups facilitated by Leverage Philanthropic Partners (LPP) and Building Movement Project (BMP). Both companies are in the business of CSR through capacity building and research. 

The results: just a little more than 60 percent of respondents indicated they work on teams with less than 25 percent Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) staff. Fifty-eight percent of respondents stated that “none/few” of their team members came from the communities served by their company’s CSR programs, and less than 20 percent of CSR professionals feel prepared to effectively advance equity in their work.

Additionally, the survey found that most department and division heads (CSR professionals) were white women, and that corporate DEI strategies are seen as lacking, especially by BIPOC professionals. And there is concern that corporate racial equity commitments may be fleeting, particularly among BIPOC professionals. 

Lack of diversity within the team itself, inequity in terms of opportunity to participate, exclusivity in favor of white workers, and absent stakeholder representation: It adds up to a failing grade in CSR 101. 

Along with the disappointing news from the ACCP report came a five-part action plan to advance racial equity and maximize the return on community initiatives. As the ACCP sums up, such works needs to be about “building a diverse talent pipeline by capturing the interest of and preparing young people of color to enter the profession, providing pathways for growth and upward mobility, advocating for a sustained commitment to DEI, educating and resourcing corporate social impact teams, and building partnerships across the broader social impact field that support racial equity.”

Some of those suggestions might translate into the development of internal programs that sharpen the profile and effectiveness of the CSR team. 

But “fixing” the problem of an all- or mostly white CSR leadership group is half the challenge. One purpose of corporate social responsibility is to favorably communicate an organization’s brand and impact to its stakeholders and consumers. The challenge becomes an external one, as well, of understanding the culture of the organization and the community.

“Preparing young people of color to enter the profession,” might happen in the form of an internal company advancement program. But a commitment of support to an early learning program of an impoverished school district within the sphere of the corporation would go far in demonstrating cultural awareness and simultaneously build future human wealth for the corporation.

Just to capture the definition of the word “culture” is made challenging by the fact that the meaning of the term in America is being rewritten by political parties almost on a daily basis. We are now trending toward unprecedented duality.

From a political point of view, easily translated to the corporate perspective, Michelle Goldberg wrote a headline in the New York Times for her article on May 24 which said, “Cultural Power Won’t Save Progressives.” The culture that progressives would lean toward is being redefined into nonexistence when calls to pay your “fair share” in taxes suddenly become socialism. And laws are becoming more morally prohibitive in nature than crime preventive. Picking a side can mean entrenchment and isolationism.

Rick Spanier of Tucson, Arizona, was a commenter on Goldberg’s column and had this to say: “Let’s abandon the sloppy conjoining of politics and culture. Let’s accept that the U.S. is awash in politics and devoid of common culture.” 

I’m not as cynical as Spanier. A good CSR team and plan take into consideration the climate of the times. And admitting we’ve lost our sense of common culture can be a good thing on the path to recovering it. The question becomes whether CSR programs can survive their own politics.

Of course, those within the CSR profession should continue to advocate for DEI within their ranks and beyond but advocate from an informed position that acknowledges the discipline required to solve internal and external systemic problems and the ultimate satisfaction of having done so. 

Image credit: Emma Dau via Unsplash

Gloria Johns headshot

Gloria Johns' career has included her work as a columnist for Scripps-Howard, Gannett and Tribune News Service. She writes for the San Angelo Standard Times and the West Texas Angelus. Previously she was a special features reporter for San Angelo LIVE! Gloria also has nearly thirty years of award-winning grant writing experience for federal, state and county funds to support social, medical, educational and arts projects. She has enjoyed a successful career in telecommunications and nonprofit management. "Gloria is a Purdue University graduate. She has also attended Angelo State University for graduate courses and studied Texas Family Law at Sam Houston State University. She lives just on the edge of the Chihuahua desert in west Texas.

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