CSR professionals driving change at the heart of business

Economic challenges abound, but the CR Salary Survey 2012, published this month, shows a sector of CSR professionals that’s not only enjoying continuing growth but also a place increasingly at the heart of business planning and strategy development.

CSR professionals

The CSR enterprise has never been an easy one to define, either in terms of its ambitions or the number and skill set of its personnel. Indeed, the same CSR job title and description can still mean different things in different organisations. CSR professionals come in many guises.

But this has not stopped the CSR sector from enjoying a period of sustained growth and, judging by the results of the fourth CR Salary Survey – jointly published this month by Ethical Performance, Acre Resources and Acona – a process of evolution that is as fast as ever.

Here we outline the main findings from this year’s salary survey.

 

The sample

Generally speaking, the sample is split between the three-quarters who work in-house for (mainly) large companies and those who work within consultancies. There are two immediately striking characteristics of this year’s survey respondents.

Firstly, the larger sample size – at 847 respondents, is 42% up on the previous survey, in 2010 – which is in line with the apparent continuing growth of CSR and sustainability as a whole. However, within this increase can be seen a marked rise in the proportion of CSR professionals working within charities, NGOs and government bodies.

A greater level of CSR engagement outside of business would make sense given the nature of the ethical and environmental issues that societies face. This view is supported by anecdotal evidence elsewhere from corporate executives who say that today’s NGOs and charities, in particular, are more serious operational partners in tackling international development efforts, for instance, than ever before.

 

Upheavals

Looking at respondents by sector, we can also see rising numbers working with natural resources, a trend which perhaps mirrors medium-term trends, and reflected in last month’s Rio+20 conference, to incorporate ‘natural wealth’ values into company reporting and the rise of ‘GDP+’. Indeed, the survey shows that sustainability has risen up the agenda to become a leading focus for companies’ planning and strategy development.

As Paul Burke, senior partner at Acona, puts it: “The last five years have witnessed enormous economic and political upheavals. Recent events have also increased interest in how businesses operate, what impacts they have on society and the environment, and how to reconcile the pursuit of economic growth with a sustainable future.”

Secondly, the survey suggests that the hitherto dominant position of women across the CSR and sustainability world appears to be waning, with women just hanging onto their overall majority with a 52:48 split. Indeed, in consultancies, women are now in the minority in a 47:53 split.

 

Remuneration

The vagaries of currency exchange rates and the difficulty of comparing the cost of living in national economies muddies the water when making broad statements about pay, a position compounded by ‘outliers’ – such as the 4% of individuals who are paid more than £140,000, considerably more than the main body of CSR professionals.

However, it’s still fair to say that pay for CSR professionals continues to defy economic gravity, with this year’s data showing an increase on the already healthy levels reported in 2010.

For instance, the average (mean) salary in the UK, for which we have three surveys worth of figures, was £56,360 – against £54,560 in 2010 and £49,600 in 2008/9. The proportion earning more than £80,000 has also risen seven percentage points to 24%.

However, looking at headline regional averages, the UK actually comes bottom of our regions’ pay league. The ‘Rest of Europe’ has overtaken North America as the highest paid region, with average earnings of £69,000, followed by North America on £68,010, the Rest of the World (£66,900) and then, finally, the UK.

 

Staff-consultant disparity

Those paid £140,000 or more are overwhelmingly based in Europe and North America and work in-house for major companies. Consultants, by contrast, are paid on average £9,000 less than their in-house counterparts.

The highest in-house salaries are concentrated in the largest companies and among those who have the most generous budgets. However, the data shows no strong correlation between high salaries and the size of their CSR team.

For consultants, there also continues to be no relationship between team size and pay, and we suspect the real determinant of consultants’ salaries – particularly at the most senior levels – is more likely to be profitability, as well as the equity stake they have in their company.

As in 2010, more than one third (36%) of respondents worldwide received no bonus in the last year, and nearly 90% received a bonus of less than £20,000. For those receiving bonuses of more than £50,000, just under a third (30%) work in large financial institutions.

This year’s data shows that bonuses do not offset consultants’ comparatively low base salaries and that just under half of all consultants receive no bonus at all.

 

Education and career history

The CSR practitioner has long been characterised by high levels of educational attainment: nearly nine-tenths (88%) of this year’s sample have a degree and/or postgraduate qualification. And this, if anything, is a slight increase on previous years.

More (56%) hold professional qualifications in non CSR-related subjects than CSR-related (44%), but the position is reversed when focusing on masters degrees and doctorates.

In addition, 13% hold a master of business administration (MBA). Respondents hold a wide range of professional qualifications, though the majority of these are related to environmental management.

For the vast majority (91%) of respondents, their current role is not their first job. In fact, the average time in employment is 14 years, with more than half of this time (9.5 years) spent in CSR. These figures are virtually unchanged from 2010.

Around half of respondents said they had worked in CSR before their current job and, of those that moved from outside the sector, just over half (56%) did so within the last four years. The most frequent route for in-house employees into their current CSR roles was via another corporate function and, for consultants, another consultancy.

 

Companies

Respondents from in-house teams generally report high levels of executive management engagement with CSR and sustainability aims. Indeed, fewer than a tenth (7%) reported low or very low levels of engagement from their company’s executive management team. Levels of commitment are remarkably similar across all regions.

Likewise, more than 90% of respondents report at least a moderate level of commitment among executive management, with the majority – more than 60% – reporting high or very high levels.

More than a third of respondents have no budgetary responsibility, a slight increase on 2010. However, just under a fifth (16%) say they manage budgets in excess of £1m, with those involved in community investment activities tending to be the ones associated with large budgets.

 

Uncertainties

Team sizes appear not to vary significantly by organisation type. Just over a third (35%) of in-house staff say their team is a standalone department, while 28% say it falls within corporate affairs and a fifth (20%) under marketing/communications.

“There is no standard model of where CSR and sustainability teams sit within corporates’ organisational structure,” said Paul Burke. “Some are standalone departments, others are part of other directorates, although an increasing number are now part of corporate affairs, especially in large companies.

“This suggests two possibilities: that companies position the CSR team where they believe it will have the most impact or, and more disturbingly, that this diversity reflects uncertainty about how best to align CSR with the mainstream of corporate activity. I suspect the latter may apply in many cases.”

 

Gender

The sample’s overall gender split was 52:48 in favour of women, a more even division compared with 2010. Women constitute 54% of the in-house workforce, but only 47% of consultancy staff, a decline of five percentage on 2010. Women are also concentrated in less senior roles.

This is reflected in higher average salaries for men (£67,300) than for women (£56,800). Only in the Rest of the World do women’s average salaries exceed those of men.

Segmenting respondents into salary bands, the majority (56%) of women earn £50,000 or less with bonus, while just 14% earn £100,000 or more. The proportion of men that fall into those earnings categories are 35% and 24% respectively.

The pay discrepancy is even more acute than the figures might appear on first viewing because women are over-represented within in-house teams which are better paid than their consultancy counterparts.

 

Job security and satisfaction

As has been reported in previous salary surveys, CSR professionals are generally happy in their work: 80% of respondents say they are satisfied with their jobs, and a third are very satisfied.

These high satisfaction levels remain true regardless of gender, type of employer and region. Only in the Rest of the World region do satisfaction levels fall below 80%.

Meanwhile, four fifths (80%) of respondents feel their job security has improved or remained the same over the past year, which demonstrates the high priority employers are giving the CSR and sustainability agendas.

 

Conclusion

So, this year’s survey suggests the CSR world is in good health. Said Paul Burke: “There is little hard evidence that the sector is contracting or that business has ‘ticked the CSR box’ and consigned it to a peripheral activity. In fact, the survey suggests the opposite is true, with rising salaries and four times as many respondents (44% versus 11%) saying that the number of people working on CR in their organisation has increased over the last 12 months.

“It’s also the case that the percentage of respondents new to the sector (for instance, those with less than five years’ experience) has remained pretty much unchanged since the 2008 survey at around 15%, suggesting that the sector has continued to recruit over the period and, more importantly, people remain keen to move into it.”

The full CR Salary Survey 2012 can be downloaded here.

• Originally published in Ethical Performance in July 2012

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peterbatt

Peter a journalist with 30 years experience of freelance writing, UK national newspaper and magazine production roles, and business development. In 2007, he developed and launched a mainstream-style green consumer magazine in the UK, called GreenerLiving, as a means of promoting sustainable change ‘within the system’. GreenerLiving closed during the post-crash recession, but Peter went on to become managing editor of the international ethical business title, Ethical Performance. However, Peter felt that the CSR sector has not succeeded in changing corporate priorities anywhere near fast enough, and so I decided to leave the treadmill of corporate employment and debt accumulation to focus on my own projects. Now poorer but a billion million times happier, he writes on political, economic and social issues – usually seriously, but sometimes as satire. He's currently writing Psychopath Economics, a book about the logic of social and economic power, belief systems, and the rise and fall of societies. Peter is convinced that ordinary people must educate themselves and exercise their economic leverage if we are to avoid social and environmental destruction.

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