A recent Harvard study showed that 51 percent of millennials do not support the system of capitalism. In many ways, they have a right to be skeptical. Levels of inequality in the United States are among the highest in the world and continue to grow. Despite a growing economy, more and more Americans are unable to meet their basic needs. With a myopic focus on profits and meeting quarterly numbers, many corporations may claim that “our people are our most important asset,” yet they rarely invest in those assets as if that were the case. Then, when faced with tight budgets, employees will often be among the first “expenses” to be cut. Unlike many of their parents, millennials can’t expect to spend their careers with a single company until retirement.
Adding to the skepticism of capitalism is the radical increase in transparency that occurs when everyone has a smartphone in their pocket. Before taking a job offer, savvy young professionals dig deeper than the mission statement on the company website and check online reviews from employees about what it’s really like to work at the company. Customers can post their experiences with a company—whether good or bad—online with photos and videos to prove it; it might even go viral. When this radical transparency reveals a lack of alignment between marketing messages and reality, the skepticism grows.
Yet this transparency has also enabled some companies to rise to the top. Rather than focusing on making the quarterly numbers at all costs, some companies take a longer-term approach. Rather than focusing only on profits, they embrace an impactful purpose that engages employees and attracts values-aligned customers. Rather than prioritizing stockholders, they balance the needs of all stakeholders including employees, customers, suppliers, communities and the environment. This type of capitalism goes by many names: Conscious Capitalism, social entrepreneurship and triple bottom line, just to name a few.
It’s often said that “what gets measured gets improved.” While many companies only focus on profits, conscious companies instead “measure what matters,” where profits are just one of many metrics of success. The good news is that this way of doing business is not just for feeling good. Studies have shown that the companies honored on the Best Companies to Work For list, Conscious Businesses and certified B corps are more successful in the long run. By not focusing solely on profits, they end up being more profitable.
Increasingly, millennials are seeking values alignment both when choosing a career and when deciding where to spend their dollars. Companies are taking notice by embracing social missions and touting their corporate cultures. Of course, for some companies, the outer appearance may not match the reality, but thanks to that ever-growing transparency, the authenticity usually reveals itself in the end.
In Rochester, we’re lucky to have several companies at the forefront of this trend. Wegmans consistently gets national recognition, but several smaller local businesses also appear on Best Companies to Work lists or are certified B corporations. Local organizations including the Rochester Chapter of Conscious Capitalism and the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation’s annual ETHIE awards celebrate this evolution toward a more purposeful way of doing business. It’s certainly an exciting time to be in Rochester.
For millennials seeking to work for and patronize companies that align with their values, they must first begin by clarifying what their values are. The early stage of a career is a great time for this type of self-discovery and personal development, but the vast possibilities can be both exhilarating and daunting. We’re fortunate to have a vibrant young professional community in Rochester to connect and support young professionals as they navigate this chapter of their lives.
Rochester Young Professionals is Rochester’s largest YP organization with over 6,000 members. 2018 marks the 15th year since we were established to engage and empower young professionals in Rochester. While for many years that mission was pursued through informal networking and happy hours, it has more recently expanded to include professional development workshops, sports leagues, volunteering opportunities and even a community development series to explore diversity and inclusion.
We’re always eager to hear from our members on what they need to continue to grow in their careers and in their lives. For example, when many members expressed an interest in getting more involved in the community but were unsure of how to get started, we put on a Board and Volunteering Expo to help connect our members to nonprofit organizations looking to reach YPs. The RocCity Coalition, which brings together the leaders of more than 40 YP groups in Rochester, has been a great partner on the Expo and many more of our events. We actively seek to collaborate with other YP groups in the Coalition and also with more established organizations that can help building bridges between our YP members and community leaders … connections that are proving to be mutually beneficial.
Rochester has an opportunity to be at the forefront of a more “conscious” version of capitalism. There are already many great companies leading the way and plenty of young professionals passionate about this city and what it can become. With so much development going on in Rochester that will echo for generations to come, we as young professionals have the opportunity to co-author the future of this City that we will soon be leading. Find your passion. Get involved. Join us in creating the future!
Andrew Brady is Chief Evolutionary Officer of The XLR8 Team and President of Rochester Young Professionals. He was a 2017 recipient of RBJ’s Forty Under 40 Award.