Among the perennial topics of how to handle Asianstereotypes in the workplace and being a minority in corporate America, thisyear AsianMBA's Annual Leadership Conference venturedinto corporate responsibility. The panel featured Campbell Soup's VP for CSR,Dave Stangis; Chhavi Ghuliani from Business for Social Responsibility (BSR);Grace Chiang, cofounder and managing director of Shanghai-based philanthropicadvisory firm Social Venture Group; and yours truly, with the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Raul Sotomoderating.
While the panel discussed several other topics,discussion was undoubtedly dominated by Michigan professor Aneel Karnani'srecent Wall Street Journal piece, inwhich he argued that it is naïve toexpect businesses to pursue corporate responsibility over profitability.Chiang, who has significant international work experience, opened thediscussion by identifying the difference between implicit (issues related tothe local laws and the license to operate) and explicit (volunteerism,philanthropy, etc.) CSR. Referring to Karnani, she pointed out that globalmarkets are transitioning from implicit to explicit corporate responsibilityand stated his arguments neglect this shift.
Stangis offered the opinion that socialresponsibility isn’t as simple as a choice between business and social good,but finding that balance of conducting business in a socially responsible way.And Ghuliani offered a global viewpoint, pointing out that the US market was miles behind others in embracingCSR and suggesting that corporate America has years of catch up aheadof it.
An eye opening comment from an attendee became thebasis of my comments on the panel. He told me that his company had set up a CSRdepartment but because it wasn’t a part of the diversity team or HR, employeestended to view it as an obscure and vapid section of the company. In otherwords, he had no idea what CSR involved and how it was relevant to what he did.
Discussing Vault'srecent Job hunting in CSR series in context of this comment, Iasked the attendees to connect their personal and professional choices. Here'swhat I said:
"We all make personaldecisions to eat organic, buy green, etc. Now it is time to transition thischoice to the professional space and ask questions like how important youremployer's business model is to you, their efforts in the community, how theylook at profitability and what standards they follow regarding transparentaccountability."
If there was any one theme that persistedthroughout the two-day conference, it was the emphasis on innovation. Whilekeynote speaker Frans Johansson—author of TheMedici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts andCulture—connected termites with architecture, and burqas with bikinis; Dell's VP for Social Media and Community ManishMehta urged everyone to follow theirpassion and constantly innovate in order to do so.
While Johansson's examples might have been a tadoutlandish, his message was clear: Diversity drives innovation. Emphasizingthat innovation would be the No. 1 quality required by employers going forward,he explained that diverse teams happen to be more innovative, causing them togenerate more ideas and produce better results. "The relationship betweenquality and quantity is innovation," he said. Accordingly, he advisedattendees to find inspiration from fields and cultures other than their own andto dare to explore the connections.
Anju Bhargava, a former banker and current memberof President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith Based and NeighborhoodPartnerships delivered a keynote address to a select audience of employers andrecruiters on day one of the conference. In a poignant address, she stressedthat cultural leanings are undeniable in your career path, and should beleveraged for best results.
Michael Chen, President and CEO for Media, Communications and Entertainment at GE Capitalhad a different take. He began by asking the audience how they approachedbarriers in their personal lives. "You don’t complain about them, you jumpover them!" he exclaimed, before recommending that people use the sameapproach in their professional lives. His approach can perhaps best be summedup with the following quote from his presentation: "Life isn't fair, getover it."
Dell's Mehta chose to focus on his own career path,which journeyed through the worlds of electrical engineering, nuclear power,Silicon Valley, and entrepreneurship. He also had a simple message: Being aminority must encourage you to stand out wherever you land, not deter orrestrict you.
Several of the panels debated the need forexpertise in today's market. Neddy Perez, vicepresident for diversity and inclusion with National Griddescribed the need for expertise as a distinct differentiator in the complexmarketplace. Expanding on that theme, NBCU'sSenior Vice President for HR Susan Yun, suggested thatcareerists "Take the first five years of your career to master one skill.Be good at everything you do, but be excellent in one field."
They also emphasized that it has become arequirement today to understand the financial components and how what you doties to the company's bottom line, whether you work in marketing, HR orcorporate responsibility. "ROI is on everyone's mind, especially intoday's economy. Know how your role contributes to your company's businessmodel," Perez advised.
It wasn't just the CSR panel that addressedcorporate sustainability. Almost every panel discussed the need for studentsand jobseekers to redefine their careers according to values and passion.Whether it was GE's Chen or Mehta, career sustainability came up frequently,especially the connection between personal and professional priorities.
Chen had another key message for the businessschool graduates and job seekers among the audience: "Find your passionand make a difference so future generations can live the dream."
Relevant Reading: Employee Resource Groups: Making DiversityWork?
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