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How to choose an employer that’s right for you

Success - boat and wharf on peaceful lake

Success (Flickr/Grinapple) 

Believe it or not, an average worker  spends about 15 per cent of their life in the workplace. After a particularly hectic week in the office, you may think that figure surprisingly low but it’s still a large chunk of our lives in which many of us leave our ethical concerns at the door; putting them instead in the hands of our employer.

In daily life, we may make conscious choices to minimise our environmental impact, promote social sustainability, or minimise harm to animal, but how do we make sure our employer operates with a similar outlook? While we may strive to live a life that meets our personal ethical views, how can we make our time spent at work consistent with these values?

Sharing the same values

The first question you can ask yourself is what kind of employer you want to work with. Look at the bigger picture: does the employer share your goals?  Does the organisation or the role aim to achieve something you consider important? identifies four key questions to ask yourself if you want to make an informed desicion about finding an employer.

The environmental question

Ethical Jobs logo

Is the employer in an industry that has a positive impact on the environment? How concerned is the employer with environmental matters and what levels does it go to reduce any negative impact?

The community and social question

How does the employer contribute to the community and what levels of impact do their projects, products, services or investments have on the community at a local or global level.

The ethical-workplace question

Does the employer have a code of conduct for the well being of its, and other organisations’, employees and does it adhere to equal opportunity practices? What wages and conditions does the employer provide for employees both home and overseas?

The business-conduct question

Does the organisation undertake responsible business practices and behaviours in its operations? Could any of its business practices be considered morally questionable or does it adhere to well recognised fair-trade practices?

Your criteria

Having thought about these questions it might be worth establishing your own criteria. You can then use the resources below to work out which employers go closest to meeting them. For example are there industries or practices which you would exclude because of your values, for example, weapons, tobacco, gambling? Are there industries or practices that you particularly seek: clean energy, social enterprise, assistance to individuals in need, animal welfare? Then work out which things which you will and won’t be flexible about. Once you’ve looked at the public information you may form a general view, but you may need to identify several questions that you want to ask in interview.

Standing up to scrutiny: how do employers fare?

Lisa Tarry runs Turning Green, an HR firm that focuses on the careers of Lisa Tarryenvironmentally passionate professionals. She says she’s seeing an increase in individuals placing more importance on an organisation’s ‘ethical stance’.

“Many people focus on seeking out a company whose purpose is aligned with their values. I often get very senior people wanting to give back in some way: they’ve had enough of the corporate grind, they ‘get’ sustainability and they look for roles that can offer them an opportunity to make a difference.”

With all the usual challenges that come with finding a new job, investigating an employer’s ethical performance on a complex range of issues may sometimes be daunting. However, Lisa says there a number of avenues to explore that can give you the answers you’re looking for without too much sweat and suggests you could use some of the following.

  • Research the organisation through its website and consider its genuine commitment to ethical business practices and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies.
  • Look for values/mission statements, annual reports and sustainability reports: are its CSR initiatives strategic and integrated rather than just ‘bolt on’?
  • Investigate whether the company is benchmarking itself against other organisations using robust frameworks such as the  the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Reporting Framework, the UN Global Compact in Australia (which requires signatory companies to provide a ‘Communication on Progress’) and the AA1000 Assurance Standards or whether it is using non-standardised reporting.
  • Check out the world’s most comprehensive directory of corporate non-financial environment/social/sustainability/CSR downloadable reports.
  • Look closely at workplace practices such as gender mix, diversity policies, staff retention rates, opportunity for staff community volunteering and professional development.
  • Talk to employers at careers fairs, employer events and even job interviews. Get the conversations going on these issues and if you ask questions about CSR, an organisation learns that this is an important driver in attracting new staff. It is also an opportunity for them to showcase their initiatives and receive some positive reinforcement.
  • Others sources of information include the Australian Network on Disability, the Workplace Gender Equality Program,  Dow Jones Sustainability Indices  and  the Corporate Responsibility Index.

Keep it in the community

For many people, the community sector is by definition an ethical place to work. Jessica Ogan of Infoxchange’s JobSeeker service, says jobs in that sector are “ethical in the sense that the organisations are providing community services or doing social good. The organisations that advertise with JobSeeker are providing a service or social mission and people are drawn to this because of the sense of satisfaction they get from doing work that is meaningful.JobSeeker logo

“The community sector is great place to work for people mid-career, looking for a change. Not-for-profit organisations are usually pretty open workplaces that see the benefits of diversity. Experience is highly regarded, but so is enthusiasm and personality. If you can show that your previous experience is relevant to the position (even if it is not an exact match) you will be in with a chance. Going to a job interview armed with knowledge and passion about an organisation will give you the best chance – positivity and enthusiasm is infectious.

“Be prepared to work in different roles – you may not get your dream job to start but you might be able to work for your dream cause. Volunteering is always a great way to start out. Many people in high level not for profit jobs have started out volunteering for something they believed in.

“There is a misconception that the community sector doesn’t pay as well as corporate and while this is sometimes the case, there are still plenty of opportunities for career advancement and the rewards come in more forms than just cash. Staying true to your personal mission will help you find work that is meaningful to you and give you the motivation to stick with it and advance. Job satisfaction in the not for profit sector is statistically higher than in other commercial sectors.”

Making a difference from within

So you love your job but are painfully aware that your employer isn’t pulling its weight on a number of issues. All is not lost: use your influence and passion to make long-lasting improvements from within.

“If you work in HR then you are in a perfect position to influence workplace practices,” says Lisa Tarry. “This could be through benefits packages, diversity and equal opportunities, women in board positions, respectful treatment of employees in general, a sound attraction retention and reward practice, and the right type of professional development.

“Perhaps you approach change from a more logistical aspect as you consider the marketplace and how an organisations’ products and services are developed, purchased, marketed and sold to consumers.

“At a more senior level, you may be able to influence through ethical governance, at board level and throughout an organisation. There are many areas to look at from risk reporting to effective codes of conduct, codes of ethics and compliance measures.

“To further develop your intuition in this area, subscribe to relevant publications for specific knowledge and compare this to what is appearing in the business pages of mainstream newspapers. Learn about corporate strategies and performance or governmental regulations to make a bigger impact on the business and the broader community. Whatever your level in the workplace, there is something you can do to enact change on whatever scale.”

Can you speak the corporate ethical and sustainable lingo?

Lisa Tarry of Turning Green provides a guide to specialist terms.

Corporate and social responsibility 

CSR applies to all aspects of corporate responsibility; community, social, environmental, workplace and governance. CSR practitioners talk about corporate ‘opportunity’ that highlight the opportunity/risk dimension of responsible business practice.

Triple Bottom Line reporting 

A framework for measuring corporate performance against economic, social and environmental indicators.

Global citizenship

If a company speaks about this, it is implying it has a commitment to and an awareness of good CSR practices across all its operations at both a local and global level.

Stakeholder engagement

Is the business transparent in its operations and how often does it communicate with shareholders, as well as employees, suppliers, partners, communities, and customers?

Some more  resources to help you find the perfect match.

Sydney University Career Centre – Ethical Employers

The resources on the Ethical Jobs web site

Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-time Job Seekers

Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers 

About the contributors

This article was prepared by Adam Browning based on material from the following contributors.

Lisa Tarry is a sustainability career expert. She runs Turning Green, a career consultancy and recruitment firm that places candidates in sustainability jobs. She advises recent graduates, career transitioners and experienced professionals on their journeys in the sustainability field. She is also a member of the Advisory Board for the Australian Sustainability Conference & Exhibition. Follow Lisa for further free career resources.

Jessica Ogan is Product and Marketing coordinator for Infoxchange Australia. Jobseeker is an online enterprise of Infoxchange, a not-for-profit community organisation involved in grassroots social inclusion activities. is a job-search service for people who want to work for a better world.  The site lists community jobs, environmental jobs, not-for-profit jobs and social enterprise jobs that contribute to a more equitable, more just or more sustainable world.

Thanks to Victoria Whitaker of GRI for reviewing an earlier version.

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