Ten years ago, if you’d asked the average young job seeker what they wanted most in a company, you would have heard terms like “competitive salary”, “good benefits” and “opportunity to move up the ladder.” You’d have been less likely to hear phrases such as “corporate responsibility”, “diversity initiatives” and “gender pay equity”. It’s not that such details didn’t matter in the past, it’s just that they weren’t top priority the way they are for today’s millennial and Gen Z workforce.
“It's hard to say exactly when we got here — to this point where employees want companies to have their values align with theirs, but we've been getting here for some time,” says Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster. “Knowing what one’s company stands for and how they’re making a difference in the world is much more [important] today than it used to be.”
Steve Pemberton, Chief Human Resources Officer at Workhuman adds that “this push is not coming out of thin air; it's a result of a broader societal conversation that is unfolding about issues of equity, access and opportunity. We’re at a major inflection point where businesses have collectively raised their hands and said ‘We’re not just here to raise a profit but to benefit society in a country that has become so fractured that we cannot seem to agree on anything.’”
Indeed, businesses are stepping up to the plate, eager to show both current and prospective employees that they can “not just talk the talk, but walk the walk,” Salemi says. But don’t just take the corporations’ word for it; take Just Capital’s. The independent nonprofit regularly reviews all available data on public companies to give Americans a comprehensive sense of how corporations are contributing to a “more just” society.
A just company does right not only by its workers, but by its customers, community, shareholders and the environment
On Tuesday, Just Capital published its 2020 annual ranking of 1,000 of the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. The nonprofit measured the companies across five stakeholder groups: how the business treats its workers; how it treats its customers; how it treats its communities; how it treats the environment, and finally, how it treats its shareholders.
“Beneath each of these [five groups] is a series of more specific issues,” Martin Whittaker, CEO of Just Capital explains, adding that the ranking considers matters such as fair pay, job creation, adherence to environmental regulations, and protection of consumer privacy to name but a few sub-issues. “It's quite complex, but all 1,000 companies are ranked in the same way, regardless of industry. Companies do not pay to be ranked and [our findings] are free to everyone. Our goal is to help people make informed, empowered choices.”
Top companies like Microsoft set a benchmark for fairness
In Just Capital’s latest ranking, Microsoft came it at number one, followed by Nvidia, Apple, and Intel, respectively.
“Microsoft is the most just company in America because they do the most [in these categories],” says Whittaker. This isn’t just a win for Microsoft; it’s a win for the people because now, they can potentially use Microsoft as a benchmark.
“You could go into a job interview and say, ‘Hey [Microsoft] is doing this; how do you compare?’ It’s empowering to know how companies stack up.”
Being ‘just’ isn’t just nice — it’s profitable
It’s also empowering for the companies that are holding themselves accountable, or to go back to Salemi’s phrase, “walking the walk”.
“Employers can't just be the biggest; they have to be a lot more to make employees and customers happy, which will then make shareholders happy,” says Stephanie Ruhle, MSNBC anchor and host of BETTER Business. “The companies at the top of Just Capital’s list are forward-thinking and understanding that yes, pay is important, but it’s just one component of a job. You also need to feel good about the job, and it needs to work for your life and your values. When you work for a company that [invests] in making the world better and smarter, you’ll care about that company and you’ll do better in your job.”
Microsoft and other top companies should celebrate making the top of Just Capital’s list, but they also shouldn’t get complacent. As both Ruhle and Pemberton point out, they — along with every other public facing company — are under constant review by Just Capital. Whittaker notes that last year, Facebook was #35 on its annual rankings; this year it slumped to #149 — a descent that Whittaker notes is largely due to the “major controversies around customer data privacy”.
Want justice in your company? Do your homework and use your voice
Certainly companies should want to be just because ultimately, it serves their bottom line, but they should also strive for fairness because we’ve reached, as Pemberton says, “an intersection of social concern and business commerce; historically, those two worlds were viewed as antithetical.”
Still, as Just Capital’s list shows, not all companies are putting in as much effort as they could surely afford to. For example, Chipotle, Tesla, Uber and Lyft all dwell in the bottom 10 percent of this year’s ranks.
How can we know, in our own job searches among private firms (which don’t fall under the review of Just Capital), whether a company is actually doing right by its employees, customers, community and beyond? Additionally, should we find that our own company is lacking in committing to virtuous causes, what can we do to help nudge it in the right direction? Here are some expert tips:
1. Check out other job sites like Glassdoor
Ruhle is an avid fan of Just Capital, praising the organization for its tireless commitment to providing comprehensive, straightforward data on specific workplace issues, but you won’t find every company on the site — just those that are publicly traded. To gain insight into the practices of private companies, you’ll need to do some deeper sleuthing. Ruhle recommends perusing job sites such as Glassdoor, where you can glean insider details about workplace culture.
2. Dig into the company website and its social media
Both Ruhle and Salemi encourage candidates to also dig into the company’s website where “you can quickly see what they think is important,” Ruhle says. Same goes for their social media. Look for concrete details in lieu of fluffy mission statements — like how they partner with local community, whether they donate to important causes and what policies they offer around family leave, continued education, etc.
3. Find any social responsibility reports the company has issued or been a part of
Companies are generally all too eager to show employees and prospective hires that they’re putting their money where your conscience is. “Many companies are very active about where they stand,” says Pemberton. “They create reports on corporate social responsibility and will often provide assessments on where they stand relevant to increasingly important issues like privacy.” A quick Google search should reveal whether the company you’re considering is involved in any good fight.
4. If your company is slacking, check in with your boss
If you’re in a company where a mission statement around social responsibility or other important principles have been tossed around, but you’re not seeing any real action, talk to your boss. “I would say something like, "At our last town hall meeting six months ago, you said we’d do [whatever initiative]. Where is this headed?’" says Salemi, reminding employees to be tactful and appropriate. “This is a great opportunity to practice effective communication skills, and perhaps your boss will ask you to head up a committee or spearhead an initiative.”
5. If your boss doesn’t value your ‘just’ concerns, you could say ‘thank you, next’
Despite concerns of a looming recession, Salemi notes that we’re still in a tight labor market where the employee (particularly in booming fields like tech and healthcare) has some room to be choosy. If your company doesn’t have any interest in being part of a positive change — whether that’s through environmentalism or gender parity — don’t be wary to start hunting for another job.
“If your boss tries to silence you, that’s a great sign that it’s time to look for a new job,” says Salemi. “So many other employers would want to hear from you. If your voice is not embraced at your workplace, there are tons of companies that will embrace it.”
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