For many professionals, the Global Great Recession served as the ultimate proof that job security is a thing of the past. Massive layoffs occurred in the private and nonprofit sectors; federal government employees have seen their salaries frozen for two years. Furthermore, most big companies have posted record profits for 2010 but they are not hiring.
Overall, not much is changing at traditional companies, which function based on the same old same old: Maximizing shareholder value and giving their executives compensation packages with bonuses that are not strictly tied to performance are higher priorities than hiring and paying their employees fairly at home and abroad.
As a result, for many emerging and established professionals, the perceived career options are a choice between working for a company that harms the environment or exploits workers somewhere in the world, or following their passion for change and in most cases, living paycheck to paycheck.
I would argue however, that in the midst of all the bad news 2010 has brought, 2010 also delivered great news for professionals interested in pursuing a successful career while doing the right thing (i.e., producing goods and services without harming the environment or exploiting workers).
Indeed, socially responsible businesses, social enterprises and select nonprofits have grown during the Great Recession; further fueling the idea that better business practices lead to profitability in any economy.
So, how can you build a career that is rewarding both financially and personally?
Responsible Careers #1 : Socially Responsible Businesses
The big news of 2010 was that there are more and more opportunities available to those who want to work for businesses that have integrated social, environmental, and economic value creation into their DNA.
If you want your colleagues and supervisors to think about 'being best for the world', then pursuing job opportunities in responsible businesses will be a great fit for you.
You have certainly heard of well-known socially responsible businesses such as Seventh Generation, Patagonia, and Stonyfield Farms. While competition for openings at these companies is beyond fierce, there are a growing number of career opportunities that successfully blend financial return with social impact and environmental responsibility because of an increased number of socially and environmentally responsible business and social enterprises.
Indeed, hybrid business models such as Benefit Corporations (B Corps) and L3Cs are gaining momentum (and tax breaks) in the U.S. Such companies are growing and have been extremely resilient during the Great Recession demonstrating that informed consumers will buy and even pay more for products and services they can believe in.
In fact, career opportunities in socially responsible businesses are very similar to those available in traditional businesses, i.e., marketing, finance, operations (e.g. product and project management), supply Chain, and strategy. To identify opportunities in this field, leveraging network-based job techniques is key.
Other valuable sources include:
- • B Lab job board
- • Care2Job Finder
- • L3C Connect LinkedIn Group
- •Social Edge job board
- •GreenBiz job board
- •Vault CSR LinkedIn Group
- •Justmeans job board
- •Sustainability Recruiting by Ellen Weinreb
And for Net Impact members, the Net Impact Job Board and career center are valuable resources as well.
Responsible Careers #2: Nonprofit Work
The nonprofit sector is undergoing a considerable transition. Donors and foundations are increasingly demanding objective measures of the impact their money is generating. In addition, donors have the option to turn away from philanthropy and instead invest their money as angel investors or contribute to socially responsible investing groups. And nonprofits are actively refining their impact measurement procedures to respond to these trends.
What's important to remember, however, is that parallel to the continued influx of new managers, the sector is also losing thousands of future leaders.
Indeed, reports from the Young Nonprofit Professional Network and from CommonGood Careers are showing that young nonprofit professionals are leaving the nonprofit sector not because they are dissatisfied with work, but because of the perceived the lack of formal professional development training and clear career advancement opportunities.
So, if you are highly entrepreneurial and networking for career advancement is second nature to you, a career in the nonprofit sector can be the best career fit for you.
Some valuable sources for pursuing a career in the nonprofit sector include:
- •Vault Career Guide to Nonprofit Careers
- •Vault Guide to Environmental Careers
- •Vault's Career Advice and Advancement section
Responsible Careers #3: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Of course, many management professionals think that the best way to change how business is done is to get hired in a CSR department. A high salary, a prestigious firm, and the opportunity to drive positive social and environmental change in a big company: What can be better?
For most traditional companies though, CSR is akin to a mix of proactive and reactive initiatives designed to protect their brand equity against bad publicity. Are there CSR professionals dedicated to better business practices? Absolutely, and they are very much needed. For example, see my insights from a group of venerable CSR professionals at Campbell Soup, Starbucks, Brown-Forman, and KPMG.
But the harder question is: Can they drive the kind of change that is needed for traditional companies to be best for the world? For me, the answer is no unless they become socially and environmentally responsible businesses (in which case they become part of Option #1).
And here's why: For most traditional companies, CSR continues to equal something like this:
"Be less bad in some areas, make these progresses a primary focus of our communication strategy with our constituents (e.g. investors, employees, consumers), and as a result, our constituents will forget all the other things that are suboptimal in how we do business."
The perfect example is Wal-Mart, which combines real progress in energy efficiency and its sustainability index with a dismal record in their wages and labor practices.
If you can deal with the inherent ambiguity that comes with a career in CSR, if you have a lower tolerance for risk, and money and prestige are important to you, a CSR career might be the best option for your goal of encouraging better business practices.
How do you compete for CSR jobs?
1. Prove your Intrapreneurship skills
Anecdotal evidence suggests that social intrapreneurship is a key first step. Social intrapreneurship involves driving socio-eco innovation (SEI) from a traditional job within your company of interest. Build a strong track record that demonstrates that you can get things done within budget and on time while leveraging more socially and environmentally responsible practices. Through this process, you will emerge as a CSR talent at your current company and beyond.
2. Leverage the depth of information on dedicated forums like and CSR job boards
Some examples include the Justmeans Job Board, the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) job board, the Net Impact job board (membership required), the SVN job listings and the lifeworth.com job board, among others.
The combination of resilience and growth that social enterprises and socially responsible businesses have shown in 2010 has led to a wider range of opportunities to those interested in careers that enable emerging and established professionals to align their values and their paychecks.
As you plan for 2011, I hope that your resolutions include (1) looking beyond the most visible opportunities and (2) competing for opportunities in growing companies that offer services and products you can believe in. Happy 2011 everyone!
--By Mrim Boutla
Dr. Mrim Boutla is a brain scientist turned career coach turned social entrepreneur. Her career transition process blends her extensive knowledge of the brain (PhD and 10 years of experience in cognitive neuroscience) with six years of career coaching experience at an Ivy League University and a Top 15 MBA Program. Mrim is the co-creator of the More Than Money League (with Dr. Mark Albion), a six-week self-paced online course designed for working management professionals interested in competing for opportunities in corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, or nonprofit management, and also blogs on responsible careers for Justmeans.com.
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