Soon after Ramon Gutierrez and his wife emigrated from Mexico in 2001, he began noticing Vancity Credit Union's logo at community events in Vancouver. Then his wife took part in financial literacy seminars that Vancity held for newcomers to Canada. "Ever since that moment," he says, "I had a connection with the organization."
The connection deepened in 2005 when Vancity donated $1-million to the non-profit where Mr. Gutierrez was then employed; the donation bolstered a program to help street women and single mothers start businesses. Mr. Gutierrez was astonished.
"Coming from Latin America, where the principles of co-operatives are not yet well developed, and where the values of a healthy community are lost in the capitalist philosophy, the concept of 'giving back to the community' that Vancity practices were strange for me," he said, "but I embraced the idea very quickly."
By 2007, his admiration for the credit union's social values had prompted him to become an employee. He is now a senior credit analyst at Vancity.
Increasingly, organizations that can cite a record of philanthropy, pro bono service and/or a culture of social responsibility have an edge in attracting talented recruits to their work force.
In Alberta's oil patch, where competition for talent is intense, companies are using their corporate social responsibility (CSR) credentials to stand out, says Adine Mees, president of the Vancouver-based non-profit Canadian Business for Social Responsibility.
"Those seeking employment want the opportunity to contribute to something greater than simply the standard roles in the job description," she says.
Beyond Grey Pinstripes, a biennial business school survey sponsored by the Aspen Institute, began interviewing MBA students in the U.S. about a decade ago and found that new graduates favoured working for a socially responsible company and would accept less income in order to do so.
It's especially important for companies to emphasize their CSR credibility when it comes to recruiting from the young generation. Grant McMichael, owner of the McMichael Group, an HR consulting firm in Toronto, urges clients who participate in job fairs on university campuses to leave literature on their social values at their tables. Increasingly, he says, recruitment packages sent to applicants include such material.
New recruits not only want the organization they join to be socially responsible, but they also wish to be personally involved in making that commitment a reality. "Employee engagement can mean being part of a volunteer program, or of a CSR advisory committee, or of a team that decides how donations are to be made," says Ms. Mees.
It can also mean doing pro bono activity, particularly at professional services vendors such as law firms, management consultants and advertising agencies.
Two years ago, Geoffrey Roche, the chief creative officer of the advertising agency Lowe Roche, persuaded Sean Ohlenkamp to move to Toronto from Los Angeles to become associate creative director. Before accepting, Mr. Ohlenkamp, a vegan, asked for, and received, assurances that he could do pro bono work promoting the humane treatment of animals
"It's not the usual, but it's not unusual," says Mr. Roche. "There is a strong desire on the part of creatives to work on PSA [public service advertisement]accounts because they feel they can flex their creative muscle. And if it's a cause they have a strong belief in, all the better."
For Mr. Roche, it's a no-brainer: his shop has helped such causes as the Toronto Zoo, the ALS Society, SickKids Hospital, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Jeffrey Leon, a civil litigator with the law firm Bennett Jones in Toronto and chairman of Pro Bono Law Ontario, says the importance of pro bono work in attracting young lawyers "has become more front and centre than it was 20 years ago."
"You see young lawyers who are much more pointed in their desires to do that [kind of work] There is very much a sense that, as part of their professional obligation, they want to be able to make a contribution to the community."
So does Orla Marken. When she left her job as a travel agent in Burnaby, B.C., four years ago to join Telus Mobility as a customer care agent, she did so in part because of the company's social values, which were prominently displayed on large wall posters when she was interviewed.
Ms. Marken's résumé listed her volunteer activities, and the interviewer zeroed in on this, telling her about the annual Telus Day of Service, in which employees and their families "give where they live" by doing community service projects.
"I was looking for a company that was going to support my values, and Telus was a perfect fit," she recalls. Telus was named the outstanding philanthropic corporation globally for 2010 by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, becoming the first Canadian company to receive that recognition.
But woe betide the company that boasts of being socially responsible but doesn't live up to its self-image.
"The last thing you want is to be seen as a corporation that talks it but doesn't walk it," says Mr. McMichael.
A company such as BP will have a difficult time recruiting following its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he says. "If there were 100 petroleum engineers at the top of their class, maybe 50 per cent of them wouldn't be interested in joining a company that didn't have adequate safety practices in place and subsequently had an environmental spill. So you lose out on potential talent, because some people just opt out."
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