What can I share with you about what I have learned so far? The most important lesson is that wanting to do the right thing takes us far, but not far enough. In order to be effective in enacting change, we must speak the language of the people who have the immediate power to affect that change. These leaders often speak in dollars and hours. I understand that now; it’s absolutely their job to make sure everyone else still has a job. So while at first I felt uneasy focusing on the financial benefits of CSR – isn’t that a little unseemly? – I now get that this approach aligns with leadership’s priorities for the well-being of the people in their care.
Wanting to do the right thing takes us far, but not far enough.
However, my struggle is I don’t have a full understanding of what it’s like to be in that leadership role. I can’t quite grasp what it means to be responsible for the well-being of people in my care. This challenge is compounded by the difficulty of access to Gensler’s leaders. Even when I was given time to pitch social responsibility to the CEOs in March, my thirty-minute window didn’t afford enough time for in-depth feedback.
My solution was to spend hours “power-mapping” my way to the leaders – that is, successively successfully pitching social responsibility up the org chart until I reach those who have the immediate power to affect change. The process is slow, frustrating, and full of starts and stops.
My second lesson is that we don’t have to continue to pit people and profits against each another. We can foster leadership and create affirming environments for positive social change. We can engage in authentic CSR not only because it aligns with our values, but because it also has financial benefit. People and profits are symbiotic.
We don’t have to pit people and profits against each other.
I fully recognize this is not the current prevailing belief in corporate America, but my financial research and the qualitative stories I’ve gathered prove otherwise. My ideal ultimate outcome is that corporations like Gensler can also believe this too.
I entered the Master of Arts in Social Design program in the fall with ambitious aspirations for enacting change with my thesis. Maybe I would convince an entire industry to fight against the indifference to harm that is “out of our control.” Maybe I would convince them to not only minimize negative impacts, but to work towards regenerative natural and social environments.
Eight months later, none of that came true.
But I do emerge with a newfound respect for the realities of limitations of time and resources in the corporate environment – which perhaps applies to most environments as well. They are not insurmountable barriers, but they do require (a lot of) patience and creativity.
Lastly, with my partnership with Gensler over these past six months, I reignited and re-energized a conversation about social responsibility within both individual offices and firmwide leadership. This is a huge win for me and for Gensler. It’s an important first step because conversation leads to interest, which leads to action, which leads to change. Onward.