The era when companies measured success purely by delivering results for shareholders is long gone. Today, consumers increasingly hold companies responsible for creating positive change in society.
And they vote with their wallets. A Mastercard survey found that when it came to buying the same product or service from two different companies, 57% of consumers said they would choose the company with purpose and a diversity and inclusion strategy. One-third of those would deliberately buy from the company that paid attention to gender.
Business leaders who steer their CSR programmes towards training, especially tech training, for women and minorities will find themselves increasingly in tune with consumer values.
In its second season, the #ChamberBreakers podcast series is focusing on corporate social responsibility, education, and the workforce at a time of global crisis.
In the fifth episode of this season, Lianna Brinded, head of Yahoo Finance UK, and Xavier White, CSR and innovation marketing manager for Verizon Business, speak to Ann Cairns, executive vice-chair of Mastercard, about how businesses need to put CSR at the heart of their practices in the new tech era.
The imminent arrival of 5G makes it imperative to tackle racial and gender bias on all fronts, not least artificial intelligence, Cairns believes.
“Algorithms, unless they're checked, can be extremely biased… such as Apple inventing a watch that measured everything except a woman's monthly cycle because that wasn't designed in at the beginning,” says Cairns. “Then there's the fact that artificial intelligence systems are identifying people with fairer skin much more easily than they are the other shades of skin.
Companies have a “huge” opportunity to tackle the gender bias in tech by supporting girls in STEM education, she says. This is vital because “when it comes to designing the future, women's thoughts and women's voices need to be there.”
Mastercard’s Girls4Tech STEM programme, which offers skills training on topics like coding and encryption for kids as young as 10, has reached more than one million girls and is targeting five million.
Cairns believes that online working during the pandemic could turn out to be a game-changer for companies’ formal training programmes and even level the playing field for staff. “Instead of reaching those groups of 30 people you used to train, you can reach 3,000 or 30,000 across the company,” she says.
Mentoring is another core part of in-house training that can be re-imagined, she says, such as by having younger tech-savvy staff mentor more senior colleagues.
This “reverse mentoring” is also an amazing way for leaders to learn directly from their staff about how best to understand and implement diversity and inclusion practices.
Her advice for leaders worried about tripping up during reverse mentoring is to just be their authentic, honest selves. “Don't be afraid of stepping up and getting into this space because, actually, your employees really want you to.”
“If you don't start doing it, your company is going to suffer because people won't come and work for you…Your customers will start questioning your value systems in the company, and eventually, your investors will start seeing the impact on the bottom line.”
The eight-part video series is also a podcast and is out every Thursday. Next week’s episode features David Benattar, Chief Sustainability Officer, The Warehouse.