This month I attended two events in New York City where social responsibility and public opinion were key topics among attendees and presenters. The first one was The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility's panel "Enough is Enough," featuring University of Michigan Professor Aneel Karnani—and the author of the infamous WSJ editorial Case Against CSR—who added a unique capitalist bent to the dialogue.
The second event was titled "Pivot: Branding's Next Revolution" and brought together media moguls and marketing mavens to discuss how companies can engage better with the millennial generation. The highlight was keynote speaker Arianna Huffington who validated the experience of young people attempting to participate as responsible and enlightened adults in a changing society.
Both conferences, however, made me think about how the corporate world engages young workers, why there is a disconnect, and how companies can reform their CSR and PR initiatives to effectively engage with individuals and society.
At the ICCR event, I caught up with Professor Karnani after his speech (See below for a short video interview with Professor Karnani, conducted by Justmeans), where he emphasized that it was corporate America's duty to be more proactive in proving the good it contributes to society in the form of stability and jobs.
Millennials in the workplace
I asked him specifically about his views on the progressive and often-labeled idealistic millennial generation and how he thought they will influence the corporate world. Acknowledging that social entrepreneurs will impact corporate culture in the long-term, he commended young people who “put their money where their mouths are” toward creating socially responsible career paths.
I left the ICCR event slightly reassured about my decision to carve an independent (and underpaid) career path for myself, but also slightly discouraged about what I had heard: that CSR departments within companies, no matter how well-intentioned they may be, will hardly impact the structures of multinationals, producing exploitative companies in the short term.
In the aftermath then, the Pivot Conference proved welcoming and excellent in doing a great job of bridging the generation gap in the professional world. The presentations included in-depth research and statistics on how the current generation is so much more aware toward companies because of all the communication technology we have been raised amidst, and because of our increased political and social involvement.
The American (Career) Dream
However, it was Huffington's keynote that was the highlight of the conference. Her speech was an exhortation to independent (and idealistic) people who are redefining the American dream as something founded on individual experience and autonomy instead of financial stability and status. Although her words resonated with me, I was left questioning how millennials can gracefully transition into adulthood amid the current recession while developing personal as well as social responsibility.
Lack of Engagement with Millennial Workers
Companies engage with young people in two discrete ways: recruiting for entry level positions and marketing to create trends. In consequence then, both the speakers made me realize that not only are millennials defying companies by rejecting job offers and tuning out ads, they are also distrusting companies because of their failure to effectively engage them.
Investing in Talent
As a millennial, I would love to see companies invest more in younger people by incorporating them into their CSR and civic engagement strategies. I would love to see communications departments validate their voices via social media and compensate them for it in new ways. I would love to see fast food companies invest in training organizers to create community gardens, local agriculture, and healthy kitchens. I would love to see technology companies invest in public transportation, communal workspaces and wifi hotspots. I would love to see more flexible career opportunities for emerging adults that preserve room for families, diversity, spirituality, travel, and encourage people to be wholesome individuals.
Only time will tell, however, if these millennial visions become reality.
--By Ruhi Shamim
Ruhi Shamim is a social media strategist and blogger, specializing in corporate social responsibility, sustainability and millennial culture. She has worked with Sosauce, Justmeans, Sparkseed, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Bridging Nations and Gawker.TV.
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