There are many aspects of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and we’re taking the time to examine the pieces of the whole to build better understanding and promote better company values. Each month we’ll focus on one focus topic, and this month we’re taking a look at empathy.
Doing better through empathy
Maya Angelou said “Do the best you can until you know better. When you know better, do better.” It’s a simple quote and a powerful message. Companies cannot be not blind to the current events in the world, their employees’ needs and ambitions, and what their consumers expect. (Well, not companies that want to be successful, anyway!) Knowing better creates the responsibility and expectation for one to do better in all things. This is the core of genuine corporate social responsibility.
What is empathy, really? Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing—and here’s the important bit—from within their frame of reference. It is often incorrectly confused with or assumed to be the same as sympathy, as we’ll explore later in this series. But the importance in the understanding of the term falls into truly understanding what someone has gone through because you also understand their frame of reference.
Think of the #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, or #StopAsianHate movements. Those who experienced what those movements were fighting against were truly empathetic to those involved, where “allies” could only hope to offer sympathy, at best. The differentiation between the two words is important in how to approach supporting others how they inform and create the basis for initiatives.
Sympathy is broader in its use and isn’t about a level of deep understanding as much about showing care and support for what someone is going through. It works with any company, for sure, but organizations need to dig deeper. Their customers and employees expect it. This is where empathy comes in, where a sense of community is added to corporate culture and drives more positive and heart-felt interactions. Empathy is an exceedingly important part of corporate social responsibility.
Why empathy is an important aspect of corporate social responsibility
Empathy itself is not one of the direct issues or causes people think of when considering corporate social responsibility. However, there is a deep connection between empathy and genuine CSR built on a company’s core values. Where values like honesty and social justice are prioritized, empathy becomes the bedrock of social initiatives. Companies are made up of employees, each with their own individual and shared experiences, social groups, and cultural differences. Listening to and identifying empathetic employees who are passionate about causes can help inspire support and push for social initiatives their company can then stand behind. Empathy is also a way for companies to put their employees first and truly get to know more about them and what motivates and drives them.
Reese Witherspoon is an award-wining actress, but she’s also the CEO of Draper James. She was applauded by her employees and customers alike when she sent a personal message out to them all about the effects of COVID and the situation of the company before asking their permission to release her spring collection. It was more about her employees, the difficult times everyone was having, and being willing to be held accountable at even the top level. Loom, a video recording and sharing service, made their Pro packages entirely free to K-12, educational institutions, and universities to ensure education didn’t fall behind. COVID was a time of collective experiences that gave many of us the same frame of reference, enabling greater empathy for others. It was that empathy that kicked off these and many other initiatives that continue today.
How to embrace empathy
Companies are made up of employees, and each of them have their own, and shared, experiences, social groups, and cultural differences. There is a great chance to find empathetic employees who are passionate about causes, and they then can push for social initiatives their company can then stand behind.
How do you get started?
- Ask! – Asking your employees about themselves, what matters to them, or what really drives them can help you begin to find commonalities among your employees and potential causes to get behind.
- Start Small – You can explore and cultivate empathy on a team, individual, or corporate-wide level! Support and encourage your employees to support causes and bring them to the table to share their passions. You may find some individuals supporting, or entire teams may decide to join in. It may be easier to rally organization-wide buy-in from broader, more common causes, but you may also be surprised to learn what issues matter most to your team. The options are limitless.
- Budget Allocation – Putting aside a budget for social causes, even if you haven’t identifies those you will support, can be a very good way to ensuring there are funds available when you’re ready. Also, this creates a culture of support that is more action than words. You’re literally putting your money where your mouth is, and this makes it more likely that your efforts will have an impact on the causes your team prioritizes.
Join us as we explore empathy in the corporate world and navigate best practices, tips, and inspirational stories from companies cultivating this value. Our world has faced more challenges in the last generation than many have seen in entire lifetimes, and global empathy wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. Once we know better, as a world, we do better. So let’s do better, together.