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The State Of Corporate Responsibility: Ambivalent, Leaderless, And A Little Apathetic

Are you working to make a company better from the inside? Is it working? A survey of CSR professionals found that the industry’s lack of direction is starting to wear on the people who should be most excited.

If you’re interested in meaningful work—specifically, in a job as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) expert—be ready for a challenge. The CSR field is barely 30 years old, and what, exactly, a corporate responsibility professional does is still up for debate.

In the past decade, organizations like the Presidio Graduate School have sprung up to teach sustainable management, but the problem remains: Corporate responsibility jobs are a little aimless, at least according to a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The report, which aims to create a "snapshot" of the profession today and how it can be matured in the future, isn’t exactly large in scope. The authors surveyed less than 100 CSR professionals (people like the senior director of global community affairs at Microsoft and the VP of corporate social responsibility at McDonald’s), but nevertheless, the paper offers some insight into where CSR is today. Some of the most important insights:

  • There is no deliberate career path for CSR. In other words, most people don’t have any formal training—they come from related disciplines like corporate philanthropy or environmental health. This is starting to change with programs like the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps Fellowship and the aforementioned Presidio Graduate School, but the fact remains: There is no CSR career ladder.
  • The people interviewed for the study identified a number of attributes that make for a successful CSR professional. These people are decisive, courageous, versatile, innovative, proactive, and perceptive. These traits would of course be useful in most jobs, not just CSR-related ones.
  • There is no educational pipeline for CSR professionals, and hence no clear leadership in the field. The number of CSR-related dissertations has actually declined since 2001, as you can see in the graph above.
  • CSR professionals aren’t quite sure how to feel about their jobs. They enjoy what they do, but they also don’t know where the profession is going in the future. In one survey, respondents were split almost 50/50 on whether there should be some sort of CSR credential. Translation: a lot of people don’t think the profession is mature enough for certification.
  • According to the report, some CSR professionals "are disturbingly apathetic." That’s a generalization that doesn’t apply across the board, but the U.S. Chamber claims that many professionals "seem unwilling to actively help build the [CSR] profession. They remain unconvinced that a profession even exists or that it’s worth investing time or effort in developing."
What can be done to remedy these problems? The report suggests that CSR professionals might try banding together around a professional organization like the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association (one of the groups behind the report, unsurprisingly). At some point, a certification program might make sense. In the meantime, professionals need to work on creating a larger body of academic knowledge. The report also suggests: "[Employers] need to make it clear to jobseekers, future business leaders, and academic institutions that CR knowledge and skills are valuable and part of what they want to see in future employees. Conversely, jobseekers need to communicate that a 'responsible DNA’ is part of what they seek in future employers." In our unscientific opinion, this is already starting to happen on a large scale—employers know that jobseekers increasingly care about CSR. And according to the Financial Post, at least, CSR is becoming a trend in the MBA world. It’s a start.
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