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An integral part of any modern business plan, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been especially important during the COVID-19 era. For Mandy Farmer, the Victoria, B.C.-based president and CEO of Accent Inns and founder of Hotel Zed, helping out the community has been a top priority since the pandemic began.

After hearing the story of a nurse sleeping in her car to avoid infecting her family with the virus, Ms. Farmer offered hotel rooms at deeply discounted rates to essential workers who wanted to isolate. In partnership with the United Way of Greater Victoria, the Hotels for Frontline Workers Fund was created in March, 2020.

“As we fundraised with the United Way, people started to reach out who didn’t have the funds but wanted to contribute,” Ms. Farmer says. A local Purdy’s Chocolates shop donated sweet treats for those on the front line, and Bin 4 Burger Lounge, a restaurant next door to Accent Inn Victoria, donated a complimentary meal every day for essential worker guests.

In all, $100,000 worth of hotel rooms from March until June 2020 were donated as part of the Hotels for Frontline Workers Fund. Another initiative, developed by Hotel Zed business development manager Lindsay Rainbird, involved thank-you posters created by local children and placed on the doors of front line hotel guests. And when staff heard about people being aggressive and rude toward bus drivers, Ms. Farmer gave them gift cards to hand out to drivers with thank-you notes.

“It was one of the favourite things we did as a team,” she says. “The response was overwhelming. There were tears shed by many drivers.”

Ms. Farmer, who refers to her management team as the Care Bears, notes that “giving is the antidote to anxiety, to stress, and if we can do something for someone else, it feels really good.”

A pivot to purpose

Ms. Farmer’s approach to CSR – thinking about how a company can really make a difference, as opposed to something that happens once a year – is emblematic of a new way businesses are approaching social good, says Mary Ellen Schaafsma, director of the Social Purpose Institute at United Way B.C. It’s CSR distilled throughout a company in the pursuit of purpose, she says.

“We’ve been seeing a trend with corporations and businesses starting their own initiatives, creating foundations and community programs,” Ms. Schaafsma says.

Working with 10 companies at a time, the Institute focuses on peer-driven learning and guidance, working with companies from a range of industries including technology, automotive, recycling, tourism and real estate.

“We create a Venn diagram: what is your company good at? And what is it doing for the world?” Ms. Scaafsma says.

One bonus of these initiatives has been creating a community among businesses who are embracing social purpose, enabling them to give each other advice and offer new opportunities to innovate, she adds.

Employee buy-in is also crucial, Ms. Farmer says. She notes that staff participation has been integral to her company’s social purpose efforts.

“Team-sourced ideas are how we continue to expand,” Ms. Farmer says. “There’s only one metric that is important [to me] – it’s not customer satisfaction, it’s employee happiness.”

Ms. Schaafsma says she has seen the value of this inclusive attitude through her experiences with the Social Purpose Institute.

“Social purpose transcends profits,” she says. “It attracts and retains employees, and it’s relevant to any business.”

Ask Women and Work

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Question: I have recently begun using the pronouns they/them. I’m not yet out as non-binary with my workmates, but I would like them to use my preferred pronouns in the office. However, I don’t want to have the same conversation over and over again with every co-worker. What’s the best way to let my supervisor and colleagues know my pronouns?

We asked Sharon Chung, senior manager, diversity sourcing & LGBTQ2+ talent diversity and inclusion at TD Bank Group, to field this question:

There are a number of ways to explore affirming your gender in the workplace, including introducing your pronouns. Start out by exploring if there is any existing support for employees to affirm gender in your office. For example, try searching through your company intranet for Workplace Gender Transition Guidelines or speaking with HR.

When the time is right for you, consider having a conversation with your supervisor, sharing your pronouns and discussing when and how you would like to share this news, including any support you are looking for from them.

For many employees at small, mid-size and large organizations, your options may include

adding pronouns in your e-mail signature, displaying with your name in virtual meetings, updating your details with HR and adding pronouns to your name tag and business card.

Another approach is to suggest to your supervisor or HR that your workplace provide training on gender identity and expression to employees. In doing so, your workmates will gain an understanding of diverse gender identities, the dangers of assuming pronouns and how to use gender-neutral pronouns. This is a good opportunity to increase awareness on the importance for all colleagues to share their pronouns, rather than just trans and non-binary colleagues.

This is a journey, and some workmates may not have an understanding of gender identity and expression, including the experiences of non-binary individuals. This is an opportunity to refer workmates to resources publicly available on the internet, including from LGBTQ2+ community organizations.

Finally, if it exists in your office, join the LGBTQ2+ Employee Resource Group. This is an opportunity to connect with other workmates who have affirmed their gender in the workplace and provide the opportunity to share lived experiences. Work on your own timeline and do what’s comfortable for you. Good luck!

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