Corporate volunteering: Making Potential meet Opportunities

Recent events have shown us that the fight for Racial Equality has a voice that’s only growing. More and more people join in to demand what’s fundamental to a human being no matter where they come from- a life of equality and dignity in the society they live. 

We seem to be standing on top of the pinnacle- a moment unprecedented in history. Many say we’re entering the age of Corporate Social Justice, the beginning of an era where performative corporate allyship is moving towards genuine and systemic changes that further the cause of equality for all.

The change is starting to pick up momentum. Tech giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon are donating millions of dollars to many groups that fight against racial injustice. Apple recently pledged a $100 million for a new Racial Equity and Justice Initiative that will "challenge the systemic barriers to opportunity and dignity that exist for communities of color, and particularly for the black community," according to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Even though examples like these are harbingers of the silver lining, it’s important to remember that real change doesn’t just brush over the cream, but also penetrates deep within the layers. The reality is that not all companies have the kind of budgets that Tech giants in the above example do. And donation alone is not going to change the systematic racial issues that exist within the social spaces. So what is it that corporations can do, apart from donations, that can create real meaning for the cause of Racial Equality? - create changes within. 

Corporate volunteering- An evolution

There’s enough research to show that companies with effective Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are more profitable than those that aren’t. And increasingly, employers are including volunteer activities in their social responsibility programs.
Approximately 140 million people around the world engage in volunteering and thereby contribute 400 billion US dollars to the global economy annually. Volunteering is done in employees’ free time, but recently it has also been introduced at work, with some employers including volunteer activities as part of their social responsibility programs

In recent years and especially after COVID-19, virtual corporate volunteering is emerging as a promising alternative for businesses to contribute in meaningful ways, replacing its physical counterpart. 

What’s interesting is that corporate volunteering was once an ‘exception’ and not the ‘rule’. But that’s changing. Employee engagement budgets are being combined with CSR funds, which are further diversifying into DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) budgets. There is now a whole new workplace culture that’s defining the image of a company to the outside world- the corporate volunteering climate. 

What is Corporate Volunteering Climate?

The corporate volunteering climate is a perception or belief shared by employees with regard to the employees’ participation in their employer’s volunteer program. This climate reflects a sense within the organization that volunteering behavior is “something that people do here” and not “something that is expected of them to do”.

As a company that is about to adopt corporate volunteering or wants to redefine their existing program, creating the right climate is an important decision to consider. 

A study conducted to measure the corporate volunteering climate shows that the appearance of a corporate volunteering climate at a company is a result of both a ‘bottom-up’ and a ‘top–down’ process, which can complement each other. What that means is that a successful corporate volunteering program is created by both employees who are passionate about volunteering, and by the employer through the development and implementation of volunteer programs. 

On the other hand, companies that care about social causes make their employees feel like they’re part of something meaningful, and thus is also known to result in higher employee turnovers. A PWC study says that “Employees most committed to their organizations put in 57 percent more effort on the job—and are 87 percent less likely to resign—than employees who consider themselves disengaged.”

Making potential meet opportunities 

As a company that believes in creating inclusive workplaces as part of your growth over the years, there are a few simple steps you can take that go a long way. One of the simplest ways to ensure diversity and inclusion in a working environment, is to extend help in creative ways. This can be as easy as running a mentorship program within your organization, or having your employees volunteer virtually for causes that speak to their conscience. Here are a few things you can consider as you start thinking about creating these changes. 

Re-defining recruitment processes 

A company's hiring processes speak volumes about their organizational structures and work culture. Let’s look at the example of how Pinterest moulded their practices to be more inclusive:

Back in July 2015, the company took a second to look at their employee structures. They realised that 79% of their tech workers were male, while the majority of them were either Asian or white. In an effort to diversify and hire talents from multiple backgrounds, the company set up a few hiring goals for the coming years.
For example, one of their policies was to increase the hiring rate for full-time engineering roles to 30% female and to 8% male for people from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds.
Another interesting thing to observe was how they re-shaped their employee referral program. Pinterest encouraged their employees to refer more candidates from backgrounds that are not synonymous with their own, starting with their engineering team. 

Small encouragements like these go a long way and make sure that the opportunities that your company has to offer have wider reach and penetrate beyond your own circles. Our circles are more or less homogeneous in the way that our daily interactions are restricted to the people who are around us. 

Inspiring behavioural change 

Creating a workplace environment that’s inclusive means taking charge of demonstrating such intentions in your daily interactions. There has been a growing awareness around D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) in the corporate world. According to a 2018 Boston Consulting Group study, Companies with diverse management teams produce 19% more “innovation revenue” (i.e. revenue due to new products and services) than those with below-average leadership diversity.

Another 2017 survey from management consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates shows us that 74% of executives cited D&I initiatives as critical to their organization’s success. In fact, only the last couple of years we saw companies like Starbucks and Sephora temporarily shut some of their stores for mandatory diversity training and racial bias training.

What that fundamentally means is that the behaviour of people in charge shapes the general mood of the whole group. A company needs to take initiative to show employees that it cares about issues of inclusivity and diversity in their workplace. At the same time, observing and reshaping how you create engagements among your workforce is a great way to start an organic development of inclusive cultural shifts

Provide mentorship opportunities

Engage and empower your employees by helping them realise that they can create real changes. Enabling them to become mentors is a great way to do that. Here are two immediate ways to help you begin:

  1. Create structures that allow for junior employees to be mentored by senior leaders within the organization. This can be a catalyst in creating long-term changes in the way feelings of inclusivity develop within your company.
  2. 2. Launch a virtual volunteering program for your employees where they can dedicate a few hours a month to mentor those in need. There are many virtual volunteering opportunities today for companies to choose from. Here are a few volunteering opportunities that you can explore.

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