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Social Purpose Is Imperative for Competitive Hiring Today, Executives Say

October 21, 2019, 10:11 PM UTC
FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit 2019
Deanna Mulligan, CEO of The Guardian Life Insurance speaks at the Fortune most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, DC on Mon. Oct. 21. Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune
Photograph by Stuart Isett for Fortune

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Corporate leaders say that to fare well and draw top workers in today’s competitive, Millennial-skewed labor market, there’s a new business imperative: social purpose.

“It’s critical,” said Deanna Mulligan, CEO of Guardian Life Insurance, a Fortune 500 company with 10,000 employees, speaking at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in Washington, D.C. Monday afternoon.

“You can’t go on campus and recruit without [it]—they want all the stats on how you’re doing environmentally, ESG investments, they want to know about diversity. It’s table stakes.”

Maggie Neilson, CEO of Global Philanthropy Group, an organization that helps companies and high profile individuals pursue socially impactful work agreed there has been a shift, noticeably in the past two years in how businesses consider corporate social responsibility.

“I’ve seen this get momentum that previously wasn’t there—from an HR perspective.” Increasingly she has heard from those at the board and C-suite level that prioritizing a sense of social purpose “is the only way we can attract and retain talent,” she said. Neilson added that the accumulating evidence that social purpose has business benefits also helps.

“Twenty years ago this was like pushing a boulder up a hill,” said Neilson. “Now we have a deck this thick that says, no matter why, this is smart from a business perspective—even if you’re an evil awful person who doesn’t care about any of these issues.”

Jill Ader, Chairwoman of Egon Zehnder, the executive search firm, said that while that may be true, she has noticed that when it comes to the top jobs, boards rarely put much weight on societal responsibility and responsible capitalism in the end.

“What we find in appointing CEOs, is at outset, boards are very open—‘This is the sort of leader we want’—but when it comes to the final shortlist, they go for who has boardroom gravitas and the [financial] results.”

She added: “It has to be both.”

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