Major headlines from 2018 – like the rise of the #MeToo Movement, California’s legislation to increase the number of women on boards and the Weinstein Clause – have forced leading companies and their management to evaluate their current practices and their social impact efforts in an effort to avoid drawing negative attention and set themselves up for long-term success. Over the past year, companies have had to take a hard look at their culture and values and determine whether or not those values are reflected in their day-to-day operations. They’ve done this in order to not only get ahead of potential conflict (in an environment where knee-jerk reaction has become the norm), but to put a stake in the ground and become a leader in the areas that they say they care most about. This change in behaviour and the way we do business will continue to take shape into 2019. Below are some of my predictions for what’s in store and how companies can stay ahead of the fray.
Companies Will Be Forced To Embrace Social Impact – Or Fall Behind
For many years, companies viewed investing in social impact as “icing on the cake,” instead of as a must-do for their business – but that’s all changing. While even five years ago, companies were still somewhat slow to integrate social impact into their day-to-day activities and long-term strategies, over the past few years, the rallying cry behind these issues has been growing rapidly. In 2019, it will no longer be a choice for companies to embed social impact into their business and brand strategies – it’ll be imperative. More and more studies are showing that the newest wave of potential talent heavily weigh the values and culture of a company that they may end up working for, and therefore companies will need to make this investment in order to recruit and retain the best talent available. As well, embracing social impact is key to engaging a growing number of customers and investors who care deeply about these issues. In an increasingly competitive business world, customers have countless options for almost any service or product you could imagine – and research shows that many will choose to buy from the companies whose values they most align with.
Social Pressure Will Encourage Companies To Speak Up
In 2018, we saw a number of business leaders and companies take public stands when it came to political and social issues, and in doing utilized a powerful tool for engaging customers and inspiring brand loyalty – a trend we can expect to continue. For example, at the Makers Conference in February, we saw executives from 40 companies including Mattel, Adobe and Microsoft, pledge publicly to make changes to help women progress in their workforces. We also saw marketing campaigns around social issues like Nike’s partnership with Colin Kaepernick, and companies with long-standing POVs on environmental issues, like Patagonia, lean even further into their brand values. Company founders and CEOs are increasingly being turned to as thought leaders and activists with the influence and capital means to incite true social change. Now more than ever, companies and their leaders are expected to take a stance on major political and social issues. Therefore, company voices will get louder and stronger in 2019 due to increased social pressures, an increase in the transparency of company practices demanded by consumers and the growing attention to the current geopolitical environment.
Social Impact Goals And Metrics Will Be More Transparent
The difficulty of measuring social impact and the lack of transparency around it have been two of the key criticisms that have come about in terms of the long-term importance of investing in these initiatives. Many detractors have pointed to the lack of metrics as a reason to doubt the business case of social impact and environment, social and governance. But in reality, the lack of metrics is to be expected with any new initiative that hasn’t yet had the time and opportunity to be proven out. It takes a number of steps in order to get to that point: you must determine the key measurements to track, put in place mechanisms and processes to track them, begin collecting and analysing the data, and then you will have metrics to work from. This has been an ongoing process for many companies to date and those metrics and findings are only now starting to be reported back via annual reports like Thomson Reuters’ Diversity & Inclusion Index, PwC’s Global Inclusion Index, The Dow Jones’ Sustainability Index, and other such reports. I believe that in 2019, there will be increased transparency around social impact metrics and targets both within organizations and outside of them, and sustainable development goals (like those outlined in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals guidelines) will be utilized much more consistently as a framework for developing and measuring social impact initiatives.
Impact Will Increase Exponentially
As a result of the above shifts, I believe that social impact driven by business investment and leadership will increase exponentially beginning in 2019 and continue well into the future – particularly with regard to gender parity, which is one of the first areas that you’re seeing most companies who are making efforts in social impact to be investing in and setting goals for. With the rise of the #MeToo movement and increased discussion of pay equality, the need to rapidly move the needle is this area is certainly understandable, and companies should be lauded for making efforts towards levelling the playing field. As those goals are set, strategies for achieving those goals are put in place (including more formalized training and internal policies), and as results begin to come in, we’ll see companies begin to better focus on the employee lifecycle and instead of putting out fires, create more sustainable career tracks that empower and promote existing talent.
Photo Image Credit: Interest in Social Impact Continues to Grow. Photo Credit: GettyGetty
Patsy Doerr is a leading expert and thought leader in the field of corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion and sustainability. Her greatest passion is helping large organizations build and develop initiatives that best position them for long-term success in a diverse, global environment. Patsy’s experience includes driving these efforts in social impact, talent, learning, organizational development, diversity and inclusion, and client engagement primarily, but not limited to, financial services.