What else can you do?

6th October 2021

As job candidates increasingly turn the table on interviewers and ask what they are doing for society, Sean Monks, senior associate at DWF Law and co-chair of the Associate Board of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation UK, explains how companies can do more.

Sean Monks.

When you apply for a training contract to become a solicitor, you’re competing with thousands of others who have also been the captain of a sports team, written for a newspaper, got decent grades and volunteered in their spare time. It’s a given that you’re going to be good at law – just like everyone else applying – so the partner sitting across the desk wants to know: ”What else can you do?”

What has changed in the decade or so since I applied is that young lawyers are increasingly asking that same question of their interviewers. At a minimum an applicant expects the company has good clients and interesting cases. But the standard has changed. Young lawyers are actively looking for businesses that align with their own values. They are increasingly seeing that while any company can give you work, only the best companies can give you something to work towards.

The most successful businesses recognise this. Many firms have invested heavily in the development of people and culture and are playing an active role in the communities in which we live and work. When you allow your people to make a difference – by giving their time and talent to help address important causes – they become more emotionally invested and connected with what they feel is a strong and responsible company brand.

Of course, having a purpose without a supporting structure and culture is bound to fail. Indeed, it’s often quoted that around two-thirds of millennials won’t take a job if the employer doesn’t have strong corporate social responsibility practices in place. But, a socially-responsible 2 minutes culture can only really be achieved through attitudes and behaviours that are endorsed and practiced at the top of the business, and encouraged at every level underneath.

There are businesses that get it right. Personally speaking, I find it staggering that someone from a middle-class background is still around 80% more likely to be able to join a profession like law than someone from a working-class background. What your parents do or don’t do for a living should have no bearing on your success and by bringing together people from all levels across the business its possible to get that message across with a much louder voice.

The same positive multiplier effect happens when like-minded people from separate companies come together. It’s in that collaboration space that organisations like The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation have gained real traction.

I’ve been involved with the UK Division of the IICF for three years and I’ve seen first-hand its incredible work. IICF UK has helped over 5,000 vulnerable and disadvantaged people across the country to excel at school, enter employment or make a new start in life. During the 2020 Covid- 19 pandemic, the IICF raised more than £105,000 to help tackle digital poverty, allowing people to complete online schoolwork, apply for jobs, manage money online and access vital services.

The IICF creates ways for people from across the insurance sector to volunteer and fundraise for important social mobility causes. In bringing together hundreds of people, IICF initiatives have helped companies not only to develop their diverse talent but also to amplify their impact in local communities. For many SMEs, choosing to work with the IICF has helped them to articulate what they mean when they talk about being a responsible business.

As people become increasingly interested in working for socially responsible businesses, it is companies that put contributing to a more sustainable society at the centre of their strategy that will benefit from attracting – and keeping – great people. When organisations like the IICF make it so easy for people to scale up their community impact and learn new skills, maybe more companies should be asking themselves: “What else can we do?”