It’s a question I’ve been asking some of my fellow business leaders lately. SPOILER ALERT. I believe it is, and I recently gave a lecture at the University of Montana’s School of Business to make my case. I challenged graduates not to forget what I call the ‘social contract’ between companies and their communities. While businesses are typically focused on increasing their EBIDTA and achieving record profits for their shareholders, they also need to pay attention to people in need.
Currently, this is an easy conversation to have because the American economy is on a three-year growth spurt, and corporations are making record profits. They’ve also just recently received one of the largest corporate tax cuts in history, adding billions more to their coiffeurs. In places such as Portland, Oregon, home to my company R2C Group, our skyrocketing local economy has resulted in a sharp decline in unemployment, and an enormous demand for real estate. Low income housing in the form of single residence occupancy units (SRO’s) has been torn down around the city to make way for beautiful new buildings, restaurants, hotels and high-end condos. We have seen the cost of rental housing rise over 92% in the last seven years, creating a massive low-income-housing crunch, with a deficit of over 20,000 units. This, combined with lack of mental health facilities and the increasing opioid epidemic, has thrown Portland into a homeless crisis.
So, while business is good in Portland, it isn’t always producing positive benefits for the city. Take a stroll downtown, and you’ll see the homeless problem first hand.
A bit of background: In the summer of 2014, I was confronted with a large homeless camp in the park in front of my office. The blocks surrounding our office quickly became a haven for drug use, prostitution and crime. Our doorways were littered with trash, drug paraphernalia, and even human feces. Our employees were being harassed walking to their cars, and clients reported that they didn’t feel safe coming to our office.
As a business owner, I believe there is a reasonable expectation that city government will provide clean and safe streets to support successful commerce. The ability of your customers and employees to walk safely to and from your office is what fosters business growth. As businesses attract more customers, they can hire more people, pay better wages and provide benefits and health care. More employees and higher wages mean more tax revenue and charitable giving. This business circle of life doesn’t work if any of these components are missing.
We reached out to the mayor, met with law enforcement and city officials, and worked to confront the problem. We were looking for solutions that we thought would be good for our business AND for the city. I didn’t want to simply complain without contributing to the solution. Seeing homeless people daily in mental anguish and being victimized by predators was gnawing at me. Haven’t we all been touched by drug addiction or mental illness, perhaps even in our own families? I know I have. The only difference is I have a strong family structure that made sure our loved ones were safe, and received the necessary treatment to keep them off the streets. Not everyone has that, so it’s our moral duty as a society to provide for those in need.
It wasn’t, however, until I was invited to tour Central City Concern (CCC), the largest homeless non-profit in Oregon, that I saw the problem from a fresh perspective. I had no idea how extensive the scope of the problem was nationwide, and the real reasons behind it. The three main drivers of homelessness are mental illness, addiction and disability. Decades of cuts to public funding for low-income housing and mental health facilities, combined with stratospheric increases in housing costs, have thrown half a million needy and disabled people onto the streets of the United States.
I had no idea what CCC did, and was blown away by its scope and level of effectiveness. They provide an end-to-end approach, including treatment for mental illness and addiction. And they also provide healthcare, transitional and low-income housing, job training and employment placement.
The only way to truly solve this problem is to treat the underlying causes and bring these folks back to being productive members of our society. With over 2,000 highly trained professionals and former clients working together.
I immediately knew this was the organization I wanted to throw my company behind. I now sit on the Board of Directors, and have made donating time and resources to CCC an integral part of our company culture.
As a successful business owner, I have come to understand that I have an unwritten social contract with my community to give back. I often tell other business owners, “If you’re not going to do it because it’s the right thing to do (and I hope you do), you should do it because it’s good for business.” Portland has a major homeless problem that we all need to address. Just complaining won’t solve the problem.
As we have gone down this advocacy journey, improving our culture of giving has positively impacted our business. We now donate over 600 hours annually to local charities, across four cities where our offices are located nationwide. As our culture has shifted, so has our recruiting of key talent. Universities are graduating the most qualified and creative people ever. This generation of graduates wants to be part of something bigger. They are charitable social givers that use technology in creative ways to give and share causes. They are not interested in simply going to work and collecting a paycheck. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Morning Consult for Fortune magazine, “Two-thirds of people between the ages of 18 and 34 were at least somewhat more likely to want to work for a company that gave to charity than one did that not.”
As a business, it’s important to have a social component to what you are doing. There are many large successful companies that are leading the way with advocacy for everything from poverty to the environment, including TOM’s, REI and Patagonia. Locally, we’re seeing more B-Corporations that give large portions of their profits to charity, including New Seasons Market and Beneficial Bank.
We live in a fast-paced and competitive world. Businesses are fighting for market share and revenue, working to grow and generate the resources to provide for their employees. The idea of adding a cause or giving back on top of all of that can seem daunting to business owners. When you remember your social contract, however, you will feel better, your employees will experience a sense of pride, and your business will be more successful. You’ll see that caring is what’s best for your community and that is indeed good for business.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.