People Want Jobs That Align With Their Social Justice Beliefs. How Can Businesses Meet Those Expectations?

To attract the talent necessary to achieve business success, companies must also pursue social justice success. Editorial

Businesses across America are in a fierce competition for talent. Labor shortages are at historic levels, and new surveys show that winning employees isn’t as simple as it once was. While salary and benefits will always be critical factors in a prospective employee’s decision, 61% of workers say that they also evaluate employers on social issues, and roughly 80% expect their company to act on matters such as racism and social justice.

These shifts have garnered significant attention from employers and HR professionals who are eager to attract and retain talent. Since the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the 50 biggest companies in America have invested a combined $50 billion in combatting systemic racism and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. While this is a welcomed development, analyses show that these efforts don’t always—or often—yield significant results.

As employers seek to fulfill their newfound responsibility to lead on social justice, they are realizing that it is not enough to pay lip service or throw money at problems. They need to prove authenticity to employees by working earnestly to bring about lasting change in their communities. Their ability to do so is more than just a matter of PR; it is critical to the survival of their business.  

Every company, even the smallest of small businesses, must start with an understanding that they have incredible power to affect change, particularly on the personal and community levels. I have spent much of my career as an advocate for formerly incarcerated individuals, and I can tell you that employers have as much power as governments to spread hope. The movement to hire more formerly incarcerated individuals, which is supported by corporate titans such as Jamie Dimon, transforms lives every day.

No company is perfect on every social justice issue, but all have the power to improve. Some fail to hire and promote women at equitable rates. Others have an unintentional bias toward LGBTQ+, Hispanic, Asian, or Black individuals. Virtually every business, in one way or another, falls short of its social justice potential, and that’s ok. What matters is the desire to improve.

I have the joy of working with organizations on exactly that: Moving closer to realizing their social justice potential. Below are three steps I recommend for any company seeking to embark on this increasingly important journey.

1.  Conduct a social justice audit

Changing your company’s culture requires self-reflection. A company must begin with a social justice audit, which involves assembling a committee of employees and stakeholders to evaluate their company on key social justice metrics. The goal of the audit is not to point fingers or lay blame, but rather to assess organizational strengths and weaknesses, identify priorities, set goals, develop a strategic action plan, and establish metrics for evaluating progress over time.

Without a goal, it is impossible to score. Likewise, without a sound roadmap of how to move from where you are to where you want to go, it is impossible to make progress on social justice. An audit provides that roadmap.

2.  Training and workshops

Once an audit has revealed areas in need of improvement, a company should empower its employees with the training and insights necessary to create cultural change. For example, a company might develop an interactive workshop focused on managing a culturally diverse team or addressing bias around sexual orientation and gender identity.  Another company may teach its HR professionals best practices for recruiting qualified candidates of different genders, races, or cultural backgrounds.

These training sessions and workshops should be customized to the needs of the organization as revealed by their audit, and should be engaging for adult learners. While they can be conducted by existing leaders within a company, many find it useful to bring in an outside consultant who can offer a fresh perspective and professional training programs.

3.  Community engagement

Once a company has looked inward and begun the process of improvement, it must look outward into its community. Businesses must design and launch social justice events and projects aimed at leveraging organizational strengths to address issues of inequality.

For example, a community bank might sponsor a social justice-themed exhibit featuring a group of culturally diverse entrepreneurs.  A local tech company might organize a social media takeover inviting employees to share civic engagement experiences, opportunities and events.  A community hospital might sponsor a series of activities dedicated to improving healthcare outcomes for transgender individuals.

Whatever they do, companies must never underestimate their responsibility, as perceived by employees and the public, to affect change in the world around them. Globally, the majority of citizens (60%) say businesses have a critical role to play in overcoming societal challenges.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to corporate social justice, but the three broad practices above apply to any business looking to improve. Companies (and all organizations) must look inward with honesty and openness, assess their strengths and weaknesses, provide the training and resources necessary to empower employees, engage authentically with their communities, and continually reassess their progress.

If they do, they will be on their way to achieving their social justice goals—and attracting the talent necessary to achieve their business goals, too.