How Corporate Social Responsibility and DEI Alignment Builds Competitive Advantage By Charlotte F. Hughes

One of the ways that a company can gain a competitive advantage is through corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is a term used to describe the initiatives a company takes to self-regulate its operations and take responsibility for the company’s impact on the environment and society.

CSR can have a positive effect on the firm’s reputation: by engaging in CSR activities, a firm can improve its reputation which leads to better relations with stakeholders, the ability to attract better employees, and the possibility to charge higher prices because the customers are willing to pay them.

A strong corporate culture, developing a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategic plan, and establishing strategic external partnerships are often the mainstays of an organization’s overall social responsibility (CSR) program.   For leading companies and nonprofits, the strategies of CSR and DEI are frequently aligned.

In the present talent marketplace where recruiting and retaining skilled talent is challenging, particularly in the United States, CSR and DEI can be a differentiator, and when DEI is executed as a business strategy rather than an HR or compliance program, it can become a competitive advantage.

CSR & DEI Together Equals Greater Allyship and Belonging

When social responsibility and diversity, equity, and inclusion are aligned and managed effectively by inclusive leaders, desired job candidates are drawn to the employer that’s clearly dedicated to relevant social issues.  Existing employees feel a sense of belonging because their values align with the organization’s commitments.  Employees feel that are respected and see themselves as a part of the diverse co-workers they work with, engage in allyship, and they see a future with that company.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and DEI can be thought of as overlapping circles; the two functions share many of the same goals, and oftentimes one activity or effort will meet the needs of both functions.

Corporate Social Responsibility Questions to Consider

  1. What are your organization’s key business objectives? How might CSR efforts and activities benefit your organization’s business?
  2. What communities are you specifically hoping to attract, source, and recruit as a result of your DEI strategic plan? How might CSR efforts help to promote your organization within these important target groups and objectives?
  3. What CSR activities are currently underway in your organization? How might your diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts benefit from already existing CSR efforts?
  4. Do your CSR initiatives include issues arising from the post-George Floyd racial awakening such as health equity, social justice, anti-racism, and racial equity? Organizations can no longer fail to respond to racial justice.


Corporate Social Responsibility Action Steps

  1. When looking to partner with external organizations as part of your DEI recruiting initiatives, also consider partnering with groups that are closely aligned with diverse communities (e.g., job training in urban communities, AIDS service organizations, social justice, etc.).
  2. Not all partnerships require an exchange of funds; consider putting your business to work for others. For instance, a consulting firm might offer pro bono consulting to a charitable group, or a manufacturing company might provide free supplies to local charities.
  3. Find ways to get your employees involved. For instance, writing a check to support breast cancer research is helpful, but supporting your employees in a “Walk for the Cure” event in your local area allows all staff to feel involved in your CSR efforts, which will likely increase retention in the organization.
  4. Activate your DEI programs such as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and DEI education offerings as components of your CSR activities.


CSR & DEI Alignment Role Model – Walmart’s Journey To Accelerate Racial Equity

Walmart is my regular resource for household products of all sorts and has always provided excellent value and service.  That’s why I was excited when as a longtime Walmart shopper and a Black woman I learned of Walmart CEO Doug McMillon committing to use Walmart’s scale and resources to address the drivers of systemic racism in society as a corporate social responsibility priority and accelerate change.  I enjoyed writing about Walmart as a role model for organizations of all sizes intent on aligning CSR and DEI, check out my blog.

As CEO and Principal Consultant of Inclusive Leaders Group, LLC, Charlotte Hughes MS, CDP, SHRBP, CPLP brings a diverse background as an accomplished Workforce and Organizational Development and Diversity & Inclusion global thought leader and practitioner for several major Fortune 100 companies and one of the largest health systems in the U.S.  Charlotte helps organizations develop their DEI strategy and provides DEI education for talent and organizational development.  Schedule a discovery discussion with Charlotte about business strategy and culture. Contact her on Calendly or this Contact Form.


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