Before the financial crisis of 2008 — before the gap between rich and poor was too big to ignore, before Trump, before #MeToo—the term “corporate responsibility” was in vogue.
Corporate responsibility at the time focused on the effects companies had outside their walls. The term was synonymous with minimizing carbon footprints, improving conditions for workers in foreign countries, giving back to local communities, and setting up volunteer days for staff. It was used in recruiting and investor communications with a few splashy webpages dedicated to impact and photos of people in T-shirts cleaning up parks and painting schools.
Today, instead of corporate responsibility, you hear about mission and vision, “making the world a better place” and “improving the lives of millions” one press release at a time. The ethos of our times (at least in tech, as I see it) is that you can drive social change through business means. By doing well in business, we can do good for the world. Of course, this worldview is being called into question with a backlash against big tech. For now, though, it remains the dominant narrative and the reason so many people seek mission-centric jobs.
Today, instead of corporate responsibility, you hear about mission and vision.
To be fair, many of these businesses are changing the world and, in some cases, significantly improving the lives of their customers. However, as was the case with corporate responsibility, the focus of mission-driven businesses tends to be external. What about corporate responsibility within a company’s walls?