By Melissa J. Anderson

According to new research by the US Chamber of Commerce, currently careers in corporate responsibility don’t follow a deliberate or defined path – that is, individuals with top jobs in the field often come from other business functions.

The field would benefit from a more defined educational and career track, say two senior individuals in the field, Ann Cramer, Director, Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM and Chair, U.S. Chamber BCLC Business and Society relations Committee and Richard Crespin Executive Director, CROA. They write, “We need to work together to create the educational programs, career paths, and leaders that will fulfill on CR’s promise to maximize the positive impact of business while minimizing or eliminating the negative.”

Cramer and Crespin add, “Improving corporate citizenship will take the deliberate work of not just our organizations but also of individuals like you who are willing to take risks and take action. Armed with data we hope you will join us in this important work.”

Undefined Path

The research identifies three phases within corporate responsibility’s short history. “Generation 1.0” emerged in the ‘90s, as professionals joined the sector as managers or executives without any real CR training, from related professions like “environmental health and safety, compliance, or corporate philanthropy.” Next, in the last decade, “Generation 1.5” had CR professionals making lateral moves between companies. Finally, “Generation 2.0” professionals represent new blood in the industry, with formal education or experience in the field before being named to manager-level or executive CR functions.

Even still, the report says, individuals in the field still have to largely create their own paths.

“Since there are no prerequisite qualifications to enter this field, hiring managers consider formal education and experience along with other transferable skills, related content knowledge, and a demonstration of a long-term interest and commitment to the field. This can make it hard for a rising CR professional to stand out.”

Additionally, the function varies significantly between comapnices which can also make it a difficult field to progress in. The report explains:

“The CR function can be located in any number of places within a company – ranging from the CEO’s office to communications / marketing to the legal division – and can be called anything from ‘reputation management’ to ‘citizenship’ to ‘environmental risk,’ which makes it a difficult landscape to navigate.”

Additionally, the location of CR is changing, from becoming a siloed function to becoming part of everyone’s job description – penetrating management decision-making. Nevertheless, the Chamber predicts, there will continue to be a centralized CR office within companies, and business schools are working to train individuals – although they are going about it in a different ways.

“… some business schools have a required ethics course, while others have attempted a more integrated approach. Some business schools have various courses that address the central knowledge and skill areas of a CR practitioner, but there are no schools with a comprehensive course selection to address all of them.”

Uncertain Future

Finally, the report says, individuals within the CR field are uncertain about its future.

In fact, CROs from “Generation 1.0” tend to have a negative view of the future of the CR profession. It says, “…some – though certainly not all – Generation 1.0 CROs seem unwilling to actively help build the CR profession. They remain unconvinced that a profession even exists or that it’s worth investing time or effort in developing.”

Even those newer to the field are ambivalent. “The majority of CROs interviewed were of two minds about the future of their profession: they like their jobs but are uncertain about the profession’s future.”

The authors of the report believe time will change these attitudes – after all the field is very young, compared to many other business functions in the C-suite today. As more people become convinced about the importance of CR, practitioners will feel more secure about their own futures and the future of the profession.