A Discussion on CSR and Diversity

//A Discussion on CSR and Diversity

This is an interview between Jamie Gibson, ASI Project Manager, and Connie Missimer. Connie is a philosopher and expert in critical thinking.  Her book Good Arguments, 4th edition offers the basics in analyzing theories and arguments. She has been influential in the critical thinking community for articles on her empirically-based theory and has conducted workshops both nationally and internationally. She joined Microsoft in 2003 and worked in MS Learning, then the nascent Tablet group and finally in Windows.  In 2011 she joined AT&T as a senior manager, where she advised cell phone and tablet partners Samsung, HTC, Microsoft and Google on making their products more user-friendly.  She is fascinated by empirical findings, especially strong counter intuitive ones, relating to daily work.  She holds over a dozen patents. Currently she is writing a book on empirical and historical arguments against bias. She has a MS in Philosophical Literature, UC Berkeley, and a MS in Human Centered Design and Engineering, University of Washington.

Definition of corporate responsibility from the Financial Times: Corporations have a responsibility to those groups and individuals that they can affect, i.e., its stakeholders, and to society at large. Stakeholders are usually defined as customers, suppliers, employees, communities and shareholders or other financiers….Corporate responsibility includes being consistent with ethical principles and conduct such as honesty, integrity and respect for others.   By voluntarily accepting responsibility for its actions corporations earn their licence to operate in society.

Jamie: When did corporate social responsibility become a corporate value?

Connie: Most people have heard the phrase ‘corporate social responsibility,’ but I suspect fewer understand it as a corporate department, Corporate Social Responsibility. They would probably think of HR if they’d worked at a company. At Microsoft and AT&T, there are special interest employee groups, for instance for Chinese, women, Native Americans that anyone in the company can join. However, I think of CSR as a much larger concept, including outreach to people outside a given company.

Jamie: What benefit do corporations get by having diversity part of their CSR program?

Connie: Corporations get three huge things:

First, and least well-known is that diverse teams are far more creative than monochromatic ones. Decades of research has repeatedly shown this! You can read a succinct article by a major researcher in Scientific American: “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter.

Second, with diverse employees the corporation has a potential gold mine in perspectives that can help steer product decisions as well as treatment of customers.

Finally, the corporation that emphasizes diversity has a great marketing tool with customers.

And, of course, a level playing field for job applicants is a powerful moral argument. Diversity is beautifully supported, both from an empirical and a moral point of view.

Jamie: Does diversity as part of CSR create bias?

Connie: That is a very interesting question! People in the dominant group, i.e., white males in technology, may well see it this way. But the fact of the matter is that bias against people other than that group is powerful, albeit innocently unconscious most of the time, in the United States. Anyone can take the Implicit Association test from Stanford. There has been some debate about the validity of this test, but numerous studies showing different names on identical resumes lead recruiters to choose the assumed white male.

Jamie: What role does volunteering play in CSR?

Connie: C:  At Microsoft and AT&T, employees had a “volunteer day” once or twice a year.  We chose an activity and spent the day performing volunteer service.  We were paid for our time and it was great. 

Jamie: But did they solve anything? Or were they just a day off work? I would always volunteer to do something outdoors, for example, cleaning up trash or pulling weeds.  Other people volunteered to teach basic computer skills.

Jamie: What overall advice would you give companies about diversity programs and CSR?

Connie: My sense is that these programs are not well thought out and happen rather piece-meal, even in large corporations.  I’d love to see companies think deeply enough to truly integrate them rather than thinking of them as “oh, there’s this initiative over there.

Jamie: What would happen if they did? What kind of projects would you like to see to make diversity better handled in corporations? What are they missing?

Connie: For example, there is a great deal of data suggesting employees deeply value autonomy.  What if they were invited to think, from their and the company’s perspective, about a longer-term project they could do?  At AT&T there was some volunteer work helping older people learn basic cell phone operations.  This was a terrific idea, marrying the company’s best interest with that of under-served people.  The problem was that it was a one-off visit, and there was no remuneration for employees’ time.  It’s a perfect example of a lapse in corporate social responsibility to these employees, who showed a lot of initiative.

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