HR Leadership, HR Insights and News

5th March 2021

What Does it Mean to be a Great Employer Today? A Defining Question for Business Leaders

Written by Caleb Baker

‘What it means to be a great employer’ is something business leaders struggle to quantify or put into action. How employees and customers recognise great employers today is different from how they distinguished them in the past. Understanding this massive shift in perception is vital for organisations and business leaders to thrive in the future of work.

What are the attributes of great employers today?

1. They champion social justice

How can organisations manage and nurture strong relationships with their workforce and customers? That is the big question when addressing the social aspect of business that will ultimately result in sustainable investing and bring more value to stakeholders. Failure to address and resolve ‘social’ issues inside the workplace may damage and destroy organisational values. Championing social justice requires a shift from a shareholder-first approach to a stakeholder-centric approach. To put it simply, business leaders need to put their employees, customers and community first in every decision. The social justice agenda requires employers to broaden their perspectives by being more flexible and observant about social issues and opportunities. These issues such as racism, gender inequality, mental health and healthcare availability are not contained inside the workplace. Employers must make sure that the measures and support they provide inside the workplace manifest outside as well. Enriching employees’ work life balance to improve their quality of life is a good start.

Driving social justice inside the workplace is proven to accelerate talent or employee value, which leads to an increase in profit and corporate responsibility. According to a report by PwC, 85% of costs is ‘tied up in people’, which is why it is important for employers to allocate investments and resources strategically.

2. They uphold responsible and accountable governance

In the last decade, we’ve witnessed one corporate scandal after another destroy the lives of so many people due to serious neglect and failure in governance. The lack of responsibility and accountability in governance renders an organisation vulnerable to issues including corruption, fraud, data breach, employee mistreatment and even forced labour – unfortunately, always at the cost of employees and customers. Fortunately, organisations now operate under a microscope, pressured by the public, government authorities, investors, experts and the media to do the right thing.

In the last couple of years, organisations are being judged not only according to their financial performance, but also on how they treat their employees. Says Andrea McDonald, Director of u&u Recruitment Partners and one of our executive leaders, I believe in leading by example and treating our staff like customers. That leadership service mentality has served me well.”

One of the most prominent organisation ranking campaigns, the Just 100 by Forbes and Just Capital, evaluates and ranks organisations on how they address ‘matters of corporate justness.’ Another one is Corporate Knights’ Global 100 that recognises top organisations that outperform their peers through responsible governance and sustainable strategies.

We are witnessing employer and shareholder-activism manifesting across the global business landscape. Organisations, small and large, are leading a new era of responsible, accountable and sustainable capitalism. Earlier in January, 61 business leaders across the globe vowed to utilize the Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics prepared by the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum. This entails organisations measuring and disclosing employee and governance-related metrics to the public.

3. They advocate gender diversity in leadership and an inclusive culture

In 1995, the percentage of women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies was 0%. We’ve seen this number slowly go up with each passing year and by 2020, 41 female CEOs were leading Fortune 500 companies.

According to Catalyst’s ‘Women in Management’ report, 40% of HR directors are women, making HR one of the most gender diverse functions. With 5 of 9 Will companies led by female executive leaders, we can attest to this progress. However, this must not be taken for granted. HR may have made significant improvement, but gender diversity across the board has a long way to go.

Representation of women in the corporate pipeline across all levels is fair at best. A trend we keep seeing is that the higher the corporate ladder, the fewer the women. Women are grossly underrepresented in business functions like operations, risk mitigation, technology and research – all significant areas of expertise for executive and board-level positions.

A great employer acknowledges that gender is never a barrier to hold women back from opportunities and achievements they deserve. Misogyny no longer has its place in the workplace and must be replaced by collective individualism that cracks down on stereotypes and bias against women.

It is empowering to see female leaders fight discrimination so that others would not have to endure the struggles they went through.

Another executive leader of the group, Kate Coath, COO of DFP Recruitment inspires other female leaders to act courageously, “We are at our best when we are challenged, embrace the hard stuff and grow stronger. Plan and act with purpose, communicate with care, and always remember, courage is contagious,” she says.

These attributes are important not only for employers because they also impact employees, customers and the wider stakeholder community. “Every action we take (as leaders), impacts the lives around us,” asserts Cecilia Sim, Managing Director of ScienTec Consulting, another Will company.

What does it mean to be a great employer today?

Leaders can start by asking the right questions. “What is the most meaningful support my employees need right now?” “How can I prepare my team for the future?” “How can we better serve our customers and communities during these trying times?” “What are the biggest challenges for my team moving forward?”

Will’s Stefanie Cross-Wilson, COO of ChapmanCG, summarises this, “Anyone in a leadership role should serve the people they lead – but always with confidence, compassion, and humility.”

A great employer is an empathetic employer that values human capital over financial assets. Financial gains will come as a result of employers taking a people-first approach, as proven by several research studies. Citing Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth Lotardo in their Harvard Business Review article, “Financial performance is crucial, but making numbers the centerpiece of your leadership narrative is a costly mistake.”

No matter the size of your organisation or business, Will believes that being a great employer is an unspoken responsibility of every leader. Great employers today inspire and guide the great employees of tomorrow. Join us on this journey to create workplaces where employees are trusted and valued.

Written by Caleb Baker

Caleb Baker (Cal) joined Will in Oct 2019 as Managing Director - Strategic Growth, Technology and Talent Solutions. Cal leads the growth agenda focussing on the design of Will’s products and services strategy across the group. Caleb is passionate about building group wide capability to deliver progressive talent solutions through innovative service designs and the adoption of leading HR technology.

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