The true impact of Corporate Social Responsibility

As Australian consumer’s purchasing trends evolve, more and more we see people look beyond a company’s product or service quality or price alone. People now want to know about corporate culture, what companies value, and ultimately, they want to know what a purchase from your company says about them.

It’s exciting to see that beyond consumer directed influence and market trends, companies are embracing the impact of strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) as the story they want to be a part of. Being branded as a good Corporate Citizen positively impacts on attracting the right people into their workforce and elevates a company’s value proposition for their consumers.

One most recent example of this is the Woolworths Group. Woolworths currently employ over 205,000 team members making them one of Australia’s largest employers. They have a proud history in leading diversity and inclusion strategies, most notably, is their successes with Indigenous Australians, Women, Youth and People with Disabilities which provided a strong foundation for success in venturing into their new program supporting refugees.

Woolworths is an iconic Australian company, and one of the first businesses to pledge support to the call to action by both the Federal and NSW state governments to introduce employment pathways for newly arrived refugees, as a result of the Syrian humanitarian crisis. 

Woolworths are working in partnership with leading settlement and employment providers such as Settlement Services International (SSI) and Workskil Australia to build on the success of previous diversity programs and create pathways for refugees to access their first job in Australia. This collaboration is still in its early days, but already we have collectively helped over 20 refugees access work in NSW.

What we have already seen among our successful refugee program participants are positive attitudes, a willingness to learn, ability to be team players and confident interpersonal skills. These are the characteristics and attributes Woolworths recognises adds value to their workforce and shares their customer-centric focus.

The recent intensive Woolworths Refugee Employment Program hosted primarily by Woolworths Metro branded stores, kicked off in September. Running for 12 weeks in total, it required the refugee participants to undertake customised pre-employment training, online inductions and in-store work experience. This model provided refugees with a platform to demonstrate their skills, capacity and cultural fit to work for Woolworths beyond pages of a resume. As it is widely recognised that refugees struggle to land their first job due to limited local work experience or referees to verify their experience. This supported employment model facilitates equal opportunities for refugees to prove their potential to the employer. It means they get to win roles on merit by creating a more level playing field and overcomes the inherent barriers resulting from forced migration.

Refugee participants in this recent program ranged from 19 to 49 years of age, and were originally from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Some had had been in Australia for only 6 months whilst others arrived 4 years ago and were still trying to find their first job in Australia. They brought with them an abundance of skills and experiences one a former engineer, others a mathematical scientist and dental assistant but all struggled to find work in their new home country. Every single refugee who participated in this program were offered work – that’s 100% conversion and well beyond the national average of similar programs. The vast majority of our refugee participants started work before Christmas and you may have seen them beaming with pride in their Woolworths uniforms at your local stores in Chatswood, Parramatta, Merrylands, Berala, Norwest, Haymarket, Pendle Hill and others across the state.

It cannot be underestimated what this program and securing a job in Australia has meant to the refugees themselves but equally, the profound impact this acceptance and inclusion has had on their wider communities – it sends a message of hope and instills confidence that other refugees too will find work with a great Australian company, like Woolworths and start their new lives in our lucky country.

We are very thankful to Woolworths for this opportunity. It lets other organisations and others in the community see what people from a refugee background can do and achieve if we are given a chance. It has opened doors not only for me but my community, everyone asks me ‘how did you get a job at Woolworths’ and I am proud to say I worked really hard, but others can do it too!” 

Woolworths’ commitment to help refugees join the Woolworths family would not be possible without strong leadership and commitment at all levels of the company, from the CEO, Brad Banducci to the local store Managers, like Andrew Averkos, who are genuinely focussed on building a workforce that reflects the local communities in which they operate.

There is no question that multiculturalism is part of everyday life in Australia, with almost half of Australia’s residents born overseas and one in five people speaking another language, other than English, at home. Extending opportunities to refugees is another way Woolworths helps these disadvantaged job seekers to start their careers with Woolworths, like the 1 out of 8 Australians that already do.

At Community Corporate, we are truly motivated by these values and the action-focussed leadership of companies such as Woolworths who collaborate with us to find innovative solutions for refugees to gain access into work that align with their business imperatives. Like us, Woolworths recognises an important asset of any employee is having the right attitude as a crucial factor for success – and I would argue this is something the overwhelming majority of refugees have in spades.

Creating employment opportunities such as these are not easy. Diversity and inclusion strategy is not about ticking boxes or meeting quotas. For those who take this narrow approach will be more likely to fail. Diversity and inclusion is about a genuine belief in people, people from all walks of life, people who have been handed challenges well beyond their control and had the resilience and determination to overcome them. For refugees, the adversity and loss they have faced is insurmountable to really understand, but yet they stand ready to try again and start over, and make the most of their new lives in Australia.

At the end of the day, every Australian, like me, genuinely wants to provide our children with hope, reward and opportunities – a prosperous life for all of us to enjoy. So, we cannot underestimate that at the core of human dignity is work – and at the core of work are socially inclusive companies.

My team at Community Corporate, our partners SSI and Workskil Australia are very proud to support the Woolworths Group and their commitment to building a stronger community where everyone feels valued because after all, it is the people of Australia that is our most precious resource and continue to make this country great!