On the failing role of Corporate Social Responsibility

On the failing role of Corporate Social Responsibility

9 August 2017

CSR icrw.org
Courtesy David Snyder from icrw.org

 

People viewing this article might be tickled into chastising me for using such a title before even reading the article and that would be their prerogative. I believe mine is to point out that indeed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – which is a code name for charitable giving – is failing as the whole idea is to uphold corporate responsibility in giving back to the communities where they exist or that have supported them by consuming their products in a way that is sustainable, which is not the case today (with some beautiful exceptions).

 

When this term and notion was first invented, it was expected that CSR would indeed sweepingly reduce poverty, provide a more equitable distribution of financial possibilities in the low to middle class levels and make shareholders of big companies happier. Unfortunately, it would seem – at least to me – that CSR has failed terribly on the dream it created initially. Obviously, when I say it has failed, I mean that those who were to apply this notion among their companies have failed in applying it in the right way. Is there one given right way, one would want to argue and I would have to say that there is not one right way but probably many right ways although it definitely is not the right way for many who are currently not advocating the right CSR approach.

 

To bring to light the failure, I shall quote an example from one of the defunct companies that I worked for where the CSR budget was simply used as a marketing tool to get the brandname marketed. While it worked well at the time because it was a Rotary event helping a school for special needs, the idea that CSR budgets should be considered as simply branding and marketing expenses shows how deep the failure is rooted in the mindset of the industry as many other examples of branding discussed with my peers in the industry come to mind (display of banners for an event, nameplate appearing for another, mentioned during the festivities for another, etc).

 

A couple of years ago, I moderated a panel on CSR and was excited to meet people who were actively giving and most of the talk was on how the money was simply given to the needy, to those who could not afford food, education and medication. After the panel when I asked one of the speakers about the possibility of funding my Microfinance endeavour, I did not even get an email answer, not even to say no.

 

The failure of CSR is further proven by the fact that in most companies (if they have it), it is simply a small budget to be given or a one man show department or sometimes a department that will give to a worthy cause but that keeps changing and does not follow the evolution of that cause.

 

I do hope that ultimately CSR will start becoming a real department in big organisations where giving will be made in an actually sustainable way, with a proper budget, a follow-up and will encourage a chain of giving so that we have a better world. Meanwhile, if you are interested in becoming a partner in my microfinance project ( mena-microfinance.ning.com ) do let me know (geethap2007@hotmail.com). My project is focused on empowering women who are widows or divorcees and allowing them to join the workforce in a way commensurate to their needs and restrictions. To date, the only CSR opportunities to fund this project were so limited and so one-time only that this project has been put on hold.

 

 

CSR Care Canada
Courtesy Care Canada

Itni Shakti Hamein Dena Daata

 

Society as a whole including its corporate and political structure has a responsibility towards women and the future generation

Society as a whole including its corporate and political structure has a responsibility towards women and the future generation

19 August 2015

Courtesy huffingtonpost.com - Karen does it all
Courtesy huffingtonpost.com – Karen does it all

A while ago my caretaker had to bring her son home as he was slightly ill and with her limited means she could of course not afford paying a nanny to keep her son and the kindergarten would not take her son as long as he was ill. We had therefore agreed that she could bring him to my house and he would sit in my younger son’s room playing with his toys while she tended to her duties at my house. I had many things that needed to be tended to and found that her son was competing with me for her attention which got me slightly irritated initially. I quickly put myself on check, however, as I remembered how I would have loved – as a young mother – to be able to tend to my sick children or at least have an appropriate structure where I could check on them instead of leaving them alone with a chance nanny from the red crescent (as was the usage in Geneva at the time when the usual kindergartens refused your sick children).

Now why do I recount this anecdote to you? Not to do my “mea culpa” only although I did feel guilty at the time to have had that moment of irritation but to spur thoughts on the wider phenomenon that women face in their daily lives.

It is a fact that is undeniable today. Women are and need to be in the workplace. This is not a debate about whether women should stay at home and accept what can often be a social stigma of being simply a “homemaker” (often uttered with some contempt and perhaps an unconscious undertone of envy by women when meeting socially the “homemaker”) or whether they should embrace fully a career and let go of their households to be run by nannies nor even is it a plea to women to attempt alone to balance both lives harmoniously.

Indeed, this is simply not possible for women to do alone anymore. I have heard countless stories of feelings of abandonment, of hopelessness and of inadequacy from women whom I believed from the outside to be successful career women while running a household adequately for their families. I myself struggled at onset of my career with a very hostile and male dominated environment (in Geneva of all places!) as I toiled and cared alternating my attention between my work, my master of Science studies at the Geneva University and my two children that then became three. In doing this, not only was I not aided by some of my employers but in fact I was even stigmatised because of being a working mother who wanted to balance both.

During my time at Arthur Andersen for example I was sacked in December 1997because I wanted to make use of the policy which granted two additional months for breastfeeding to young mothers but my boss of the time felt (and told me so in advance) that I should not use the policy because it was a mistake in translation between the German policy that was spelt out by Zurich and the French version in Geneva where maternity fortuitously got included as illness. Despite having filed a claim for damages at the Prudhommes (court for compensation of employees who have been abusively dismissed) and proving that I was always a good employee and kept getting increments over the years of my work there but got dismissed summarily merely 9 days after sending a letter to HR with a breastfeeding certificate and mentioning that I would be making use of my extra two months of breastfeeding leave instead of coming back to the office after my two months of maternity leave, the Court ruled that there was no abusive dismissal. Later on more similar cases came to light but they were quickly smothered as Arthur Andersen was a giant at the time and after my claim HR circulated internally a memo to all employees asking them to sign off on the new translation of the Employee sickness leave policy. Needless to say I shed no tears when Arthur Anderson split apart after the Enron scandal.

This was not an isolated event in my career while always attempting to juggle between my work and my family responsibilities and in 2004 in connection with my second son and third child I had some unpleasant incidents with PricewaterhouseCoopers as well. My boss of the time had called me when I broke the “not so good news” to him and asked me how come I was having a third. He and the other partner had indeed asked me at my initial interview whether I intended to have another child before they hired me and I had honestly said that I did not intend to. Fortunately (but unfortunately on the professional level), I had my unexpected and unplanned third pregnancy and upon returning to the office what was my surprise to have my boss, the partner of the Geneva office and the Swiss-wide Zurich based partner of the practice meet me at my office and suggest to me not so delicately having a tubal ligation myself or encouraging my husband to undergo a vasectomy. The Zurich partner even volunteered to meet my husband and explain to him that this was not a painful procedure as he had undergone it himself and he then started explaining to me the actual procedure. After that humiliating incident I was also subject to taunts from my boss and his second in command as I was working “part-time” as they labelled it simply because I was again using an employee policy for breastfeeding which allowed a one-hour diminishing of the working hours for breastfeeding one’s child. I was therefore working 7 hours instead of the official 8 during the two months after my maternity leave but given that they were used to me working 10 hours or more before in order to sustain the rhythm of work at my level within the firm they believed I was now doing part-time while getting a full-time salary. That year and although I had been promised a promotion beforehand, I did not get the promotion and my evaluation took place as a very hostile encounter so it was clear that it was simply because my superiors believed that I had breached their trust and become a bad employee because I was trying to get some work life balance and making use of policies that officially granted rights to mothers within the workplace.

I am not recounting the above to get any commiseration from anyone nor even to muster all wrath at my previous employers but simply to point out the difficulties that women face in the workplace and I consider myself to have been a specially tough cookie to have been able to go through all of that and still make it as a mother and as a somewhat successful woman at work. In fact, as I recount this, I can already mentally calculate the number of ill-advised and socially irresponsible employers who are going to put me on their blacklist making sure that I never will become one of their employees even though I am no longer of the age to have children anymore. There is a professional stigma that goes with speaking out the truth about a previous employer even if it is to further a good cause such as promoting the cause of women in the workplace. Like with the mafia, there is a silent promise, an Omerta, that is maintained by employees and encouraged by employers to not speak about bad practices within the industry although it actually disserves the industry as a whole. The strength of this Omerta within a company allows to determine what kind of a company you are/have been working for. In fact, it actually showcases which are the truly enlightened and good employers and which are the bad ones because the truly good employers will always want to have someone who speaks up against bad policies while the bad employers will have problems with that because they simply would want to sweep the dirt under the rug so to speak. Worse still, some HR professionals have the bad taste of bad mouthing outspoken employees who point out bad practices within the organisation and sometimes even after they have left the organisation. Of course they would never mention the bad practices nor the fact that the employee in question spoke out on those bad practices but will simply create a rumour against that employee to discredit him/her.

Returning to the case in point, my case which I know and can talk about in detail is not an isolated one. There are countless women who battle every day in order to bring some balance or semblance of balance in their juggling of household and work responsibilities and for some it is a battle that is so exhausting that the result is either depression, burn-out or simply the choice of leaving the one or the other responsibility. More often than not, women naturally leave the work responsibility out when they can afford to do so. Social studies have come to recognise these undercurrents that cause women to drop out of the workforce and thereby deprive society of some very capable or even sometimes brilliant minds but the voices of those pointing this out are often drowned by the thunders of the waves of supporters of the all-time profit theory.

One might think that this talk is outdated and not applicable anymore but it actually is not. The more I speak with young women today the more I realise that the reality of this hostile landscape has not changed. In some cultures it has become just more subterranean and in others women suffer through it without uttering a word and then simply falling out of the workforce or falling out of the marriage because of the lack of support whether physical or moral from their spouses.

It is a sad reality that we are faced with still today. The workplace has failed women who often give their best years before they are faced by the dilemma arising from their motherhood and either fall out of the workplace or simply suffer through an unhappy existence both at work and at home.

This reality has to change on a deeper level than just assuming that it is for the spouse to help out and ensure that women are able to attain some sort of work-life balance. The responsibility lies not just with corporate entities but also with government bodies and society as a whole including its social framework put in place for assisting women at work.

My personal belief is that the right step towards ensuring a more balanced society and enabling women to achieve this work-life balance would start on many levels:

  • On the corporate entities’ level, there has to be an oversight system in place to ensure within the corporate governance of the entities that employee policies are actually being implemented properly and that gender discrimination is not merely a shining leitmotiv hung on the entities’ armouries but that it is an actual daily reality that the female workforce feel confident they can rely upon. Other than that, it would be most adequate and actually an incentive to make working mothers more productive if day care centres were systematically provided by the employer (if possible at reduced costs) within or nearby the premises of their workforce. Some employers do this and they should be lauded for this initiative which actually rewards them on the long term and sometimes even on the short and medium terms.
  • On the social framework level, consolidated structures would need to be put in place to ensure appropriate care is taken for the odd events in the life of a working woman such as day care that actually ensures a proper follow-up of sick children. Geneva has such a system through the red crescent although it is not the best one as there is no consistency in the quality of the persons sent nor is it possible to have the same person for the same neighbourhood to ensure the child in question does not have to face the fear of an unfamiliar face and the mother does not need to worry about whether good care will be provided to her child while she works. What is also lacking is the systematic introduction of a hotline that working mothers could resort to in order to get advice, tips on how to manage their responsibilities better or simply to have someone to talk to when they are feeling let down and helpless
  • On the government level, it is obvious that a more stringent legislation has to be put in place both on the positive side encouraging or even making mandatory employee policies that allow a humane environment for working mothers while maintaining the possibility for them to also have access to their rightly deserved promotions and on the negative side by punishing those corporate entities that have totem policies that they don’t encourage following on a practical level for women or perhaps – even worse – discourage implicitly their female workforce from having recourse to.
  • On the society’s level, a major point that would need to be considered is the stigmatisation of either of the homemaker or the career woman. Society needs to stop blaming the one or the other and making women feel miserable and caught in the “damned if you do damned if you don’t” spiral. Other minor points would be for example by encouraging working mothers who succeed and praising the outcome of their efforts or just a more supportive attitude towards colleagues who are working mothers instead of the raising of the eyebrows and hushed talks each time a woman simply has to tend to some unexpected emergency such as having to rush to school because her child was hurt/sick or to speak over the phone to check in on a sick child at home with an unfamiliar nanny he/she was scared of.
  • On the collective media cum regulatory level, it would be important to have a measure and be able to track indices that consistently showcase which employers are good employers enabling a proper integrating of working mothers within their ranks and which are the “bad” employers. Such indices could then be used within the criterion of being a Socially Responsible Employer. Investors would then have the choice of supporting or not a given entity based on its index of Social Responsibility that includes the vital data on the treatment of working mothers.

To finish on this, I would like to share a very poignant clip which to me just magnifies the symbolism of the bond of motherhood and the sense of sacrifice that is engrained in almost all women when it concerns their children. Too bad that society is more often than not reluctant to reward or even identify those sacrifices.

Meanwhile, while the wheels of change turn grimacing and clanking women continue to suffer in countless ways and have to make inhuman sacrifices in order to adapt to a workplace that continuously refuses to make the appropriate reforms to integrate them successfully.

At this point I would be inclined to say that current system as a whole has failed and continues to consistently fail women and thereby the next generation via this failure. As we see an aging European population and a young population elsewhere (mainly in third world countries), we realise that if the problem of women in the workplace is not solved adequately as a priority society as a whole will lose out and this will include the corporate profits aspect. Indeed, how could a society evolve and be profitable and successful if half of it is crippled by a reality that is simply not willing to allow it to start walking properly? The time has truly come for a change and hopefully the world is ready for that change. God knows that women have been long ready and waiting for it.

Meanwhile, while the wheels of change turn grimacing and clanking women continue to suffer in countless ways and have to make inhuman sacrifices in order to adapt to a workplace that continuously refuses to make the appropriate reforms to integrate them successfully.

To finish on this, I would like to share a very poignant clip which to me just magnifies the symbolism of the bond of motherhood and the sense of sacrifice that is engrained in almost all women when it concerns their children. Too bad that society is more often than not reluctant to reward or even identify those sacrifices.