Yesterday I went to an excellent event hosted by Net Impact and Clark Women in Business where Kathrin Winkler, VP of Corporate Social Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC Corporation spoke to a group of students. I often tell prospective students that it’s not just about the classes you take here and the internships that you do, but just as important are the professional development events that you attend. Often I feel that students don’t take full advantage of all of the opportunities for career development right on campus, like last night’s event. This one I found to be a really valuable event.
Kathrin spoke about a number of fascinating topics – what EMC does, how sustainability is integrated into their business at every level, branding yourself, future of sustainability careers, women in business, and drivers of sustainability. I found her very motivational, yet realistic.
Here are some key takeaways that stuck out to me:
- I asked her about key drivers to sustainability and which stakeholders are pushing the most for sustainability. She had mentioned several stakeholders – investors, shareholders, employees, customers, etc. – but I wanted to know who is really driving their sustainability initiatives. She said that customers are the main driver. They are asking for information for reporting (because EMC is B2B their customers need to report too), asking that EMC agree to their codes of conduct, and asking about sustainability throughout the supply chain. She said that institutional investors are interested, which is a sign that sustainability is trending toward the mainstream. But the most influential for actually creating the change? She says employees. They are often the most passionate and more importantly, the most innovative.
- The employees are the drivers for change within the organization. She says that it’s hard to go in as the CSO and tell a team that they need to change, because you’re the outsider. It’s a lot more effective to find someone within that team who cares about sustainability and encourage them to promote it within their daily work and among their teammates. She said that a lot of her job is “nurturing moles” who are champions for sustainability.
- She also talked about making the case for sustainability. Here she said it’s so important to know your audience. Your elevator pitch for sustainability will change depending on who you’re talking to. She said that stakeholder engagement is really like a bell curve. There are a small number of people who really care and are really making change. Most of the people care about sustainability, but they just don’t know what they can do to make an impact. Those are the people she focuses on, by giving them the tools and the knowledge to be empowered to make a difference. On the other end of the curve there are the people who don’t care and don’t want to care. Her advice is not to worry about those people, because as the mainstream changes they will come along.
- In regards to sustainability career opportunities… She says she sees fewer purely “sustainability” jobs and it’s more about having a worldview that you can apply to other functional areas. She sees sustainability reporting and sustainability consulting as fitting more of a short-term need and not necessarily a long-term career path because reporting and specific sustainability projects are becoming more integrated into the rest of the business functions. She says that people who can integrate sustainability into other areas will be well positioned for jobs in the field. Also, she mentioned the important of having “T Skills” which means having depth in one area but breadth in many others skills. Those “horizontal” skills (the top of the T) where you have breadth is where she says you will really make gains in your career. And of course, it’s who you know. So she says to “know a lot of people.”
- And in regards to branding yourself… She says to remember that you are not your company. Yes, you care about your company and hopefully you love where you work, but at the end of the day you need to be you. She also says when she hires people is not just about credentials, but about talent and passion. In terms of professional development… she says to know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. Try to get at least mediocre at what you’re not good at, but really focus on being really, really good at what you do well.