Employers increasingly seeking responsible leadership skills

UBC Sauder HA Building

As appeared in The Globe and Mail

The triple bottom line—people, planet, profit—has become the norm in today’s business world, and aspiring leaders need to be prepared to deliver against each of them. With the launch of its new strategic plan, the UBC Sauder School of Business aims to provide graduates with the training to grow into these roles. By incorporating responsible leadership into the fabric of the school, it allows the students to be immersed in the teachings throughout their daily lives on campus.

According to Katherine White, academic director of The Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics at UBC Sauder, it’s about acknowledging that questions around social responsibility are not limited to a specific course or the classroom in general.

“We do have some classes that focus specifically on business ethics, but we’ve also incorporated topics, like ethics and social responsibility, into all of the classes,” says Prof. White.

“Getting students to think about social purpose, social impact, environmental impact, it’s not only good from a moral standpoint, it makes them more strategic in their decision-making, and it makes them more desirable to employers,” explains Prof. White.

Tamar Milne, Chair, Sustainability & Ethics Group at UBC Sauder, agrees. She sees that social responsibility and ethics are elements that grab an employer’s attention.

“The environmental and social challenges that our graduates will grapple with are larger, more acute, and more complex than ever before,” she says. “So, sustainability, ethics, and responsible leadership are not ‘niche’ topics – they’re core to long-term success. And we see this reflected in the career opportunities for our students.”

In today’s world, business leaders need to go deeper and be able to assess the impacts of their decisions on themselves, their organization, and society as a whole. We’ve seen this in action from companies like Nike, MEC and A&W - all of whom made significant business decisions based on social impact. And while it’s been proven that socially responsible organizations attract top talent to their boardrooms, business leaders with a social conscience are growing in importance to the business community.

“Our business career centre works closely with a large number of purpose-led organizations, all of which seek candidates whose values align with theirs and who are knowledgeable in sustainability and ethics topics,” explains Milne. “The list includes Ocean Spray, MEC, Nature’s Path, Vancity, Telus, Bullfrog Power, Hootsuite, and Lululemon.”

“But, we also have very strong connections with the large accounting firms like Deloitte, KPMG, PWC, and EY, all of which have sustainability, risk, and compliance consulting and advising divisions that help their clients navigate the rapidly developing responsible business context. Our students know they are well-prepared to jump in and make a difference in any of these organizations and in any kind of role, even if it is not explicitly labelled a ‘sustainability’ or ‘CSR’ role.”

Steve Petterson, an associate at Helder Ventures, graduated from UBC Sauder in 2017 and knows, first-hand, the benefits a background in responsible leadership can have on employment.

“It’s a tool for career advancement, plain and simple,” says Mr. Petterson. “If you have a strong focus on social responsibility and a strong understanding of what it takes to be a responsible leader, you are going to get further than someone who is just good at numbers or just looking at profit.”

Businesses have the ability to take on some of the biggest challenges facing the planet today, and leaders who understand this responsibility and can offer ethical solutions, across many disciplines, are going to make a significant impact.

“We can send our students out into the world having knowledge of these issues and they’re going to be more successful, but they’re also going to be making a difference,” adds Prof. White.