Myth Busting: Corporate Jobs Are Evil

By: Liz Maw | March 28, 2013

You've heard these myths before: you've gotta go into the business world if you want real leadership skills. Corporate jobs, though, are totally evil. But nonprofit work doesn't pay anything. In her ongoing series, Net Impact CEO Liz Maw unpacks five myths that are holding back our society's ability to solve its most difficult problems. Because these myths aren't just misguided, they stand in the way of good people doing good work - work that could change the world.Back in 2011, Occupy Wall Street hit a nerve. People from all walks of life congregated in major cities from New York to Fairbanks to protest our financial system. Occupiers wore their anger on their sleeves, and on poster boards reading Satan controls Wall Street and People Not Profits.Looking past the vitriol and hyperbole, though, the Occupy movement didn't get it all wrong. There are bad guys in corporate America, just like there are bad guys in all walks of life. But to paint corporations with a single broad brush undermines Occupy's larger - and more important - point: people need to change how corporate America does business. And many of those people (and their employers) are doing just that. Some are trying to move their companies toward do no harm, while others are going even further, bringing the fundamental principle of do good to their corporate jobs.There are five main ways people do this:

There are five main ways people do this:

1. Landing a dedicated CSR or sustainability role

For those with experience and a deep familiarity with their industry, a dedicated CSR or sustainability role is often one of the tangible ways an individual can influence a larger organization from within. Employees in these departments spend their full-time jobs helping the company improve its social or environmental impact by working with internal departments, external stakeholders, suppliers, and more. Many corporations also have foundations that operate as a separate arm of the company, with staff dedicated to funding and supporting nonprofit organizations. Of course, these jobs are few and far between. But luckily, they’re not the only way to change how a company does business – in fact, many experts argue that the following four approaches can be as or more effective at creating change.

2. Taking on side projects

Some companies enable employees to contribute to social or environmental projects in addition to their regular responsibilities. For example, many companies have green teams, where groups of employees get together over lunch or after work to plan events and activities to reduce the company’s environmental impact. At eBay, for instance, about 10% of the company’s employees are involved in a green team. Other companies, like Deloitte, have instituted formal pro bono projects where employees use their business skills to help nonprofit organizations. And if your company doesn’t have a formal program? Create your own project! I recently met a member of Net Impact San Francisco at an Impact at Work(shop) who was crafting a business case for installing motion sensors for the lights for her office building – a true intrapreneur in action!

3. Impact decision making

Whether working in product management, operations, or finance, people can bring a social or environmental lens to daily decisions. For example, a group of employees at 3M reduced waste at the company by creating a collapsible, reusable steel crate to replace heavier wooden crates that had been discarded after shipping. By applying an environmental lens to their regular jobs like this, 3M employees across the company have worked on over 10,000 pollution prevention projects since 1975. When more and more employees apply such a lens, the whole company can begin to shift its practices and these principles can become embedded in the culture.

4. Becoming an intrapreneur

Intrapreneurs tackle their day jobs with the mind of an entrepreneur: by developing new solutions during the course of their regular job that influence their company’s social or environmental footprint. A facilities manager, for example, might look for ways to save plant costs through energy reduction, or even find a way to convert waste material destined for the landfill into an entirely new recycled product (yes, a Net Impacter did just this).

5. Choosing the company instead of letting the company choose you

Consumers have the power to vote with their dollars, using boycotts and "buycotts" as powerful tools to move companies in a better direction. But what if employees voted for better practices by choosing their employers more thoughtfully, focusing on companies whose missions aligned with their own personal values? Unilever is one such company that listens carefully to what its employees care about and implements change based on employee feedback. While it may not always seem like you always have your pick of jobs, targeting your job search can help you end up somewhere where your values will be reflected in company policy (added bonus: targeted job searches tend to be more successful overall).

At Net Impact, we hope that someday everyone who works in a corporation can feel like they’re making a difference – that they’re creating financial value while helping to measurably improve their company’s social and environmental impact. Imagine the possibilities if just 10% of the corporate workforce (that’s about 5 million people worldwide) were putting their paid time and energy to work for good. So let’s occupy Wall Street – from the inside – and transform the corporate sector so it cares about people and profits, with the people part first.

Want some real-world examples of people who are making an impact inside the corporate world? Check out Corporate Careers That Make a Difference, our free guide to changing business from within.

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