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PILLAI: Our generation will lead social change, not corporations

Column: Unboxed

Offices are not as socially conscious as they make themselves seem, which means that you as an employee have to keep an eye on corporate social responsibility.  – Photo by

Companies who are hoping to attract Generation Z employees are becoming increasingly cunning with their marketing and recruitment efforts. In almost every corporate website, companies proclaim their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and describe the various benefits their organizational culture offers: employee resource groups, volunteer opportunities and implicit bias training.

Splash a few buzzwords such as “social corporate responsibility,” “sustainability” and “triple bottom line” across your page and voila — your brand is officially Generation Z-friendly. 

Corporations use this disingenuous strategy to attract not only employees, but also consumers. Greenwashing and public relations blasts on charitable contributions redeem otherwise distasteful companies in the eyes of customers who want to feel good about what they buy.

On one hand, employers are making a positive impact on society by investing in minority-owned businesses, reducing their carbon footprint and recruiting a more diverse workforce. Yet these employers do not go far enough in their efforts to do good deeds, and they certainly will not react kindly when their employees demand better from them. 

In 2019, Wayfair employees discovered that the company was going to fulfill an order of bedroom furniture for a nonprofit that operated migrant detention centers in Texas.

More than 500 workers signed a letter to Wayfair’s management asking that the company cease all business with the nonprofit due to the inhumane treatment of migrants at the border. When Wayfair’s management said that the deal would go through, employees walked out in protest.

This situation is just one example of what happens when employees’ values clash with those of an organization. No matter how much workers advocate for their beliefs, their protests will often go unheard because they are miniscule compared to the C-suite. Many workers in the U.S. are also employed at will, meaning they can be fired on any given day for no reason at all.

Some companies have created change in response to employee activism. After Walmart workers protested the sale of guns and ammunition in the wake of mass shootings at the chain’s stores, Walmart stopped selling ammunition for assault-style guns. 

But small steps forward do not change the fact that companies would prefer employees to stay silent. They do not want workers to ask for paid family leave, hybrid work arrangements and less grueling hours. If companies did want this, these practices would be common across every industry. 

Our generation in particular has been raised to be change-makers and leaders. Composing music, designing new inventions and excelling in athletics — many of us have honed our passions since childhood. We are encouraging each other to vote and lobby our legislators, and we research the brands we purchase to see if their ethos matches ours. If we hold those companies to a high standard, should we not hold our employers to an even higher one? 

Companies today are hoping that the higher salaries, perks and social justice-oriented hashtags they post online will disguise the fact that they are wolves in trendy clothing. They are hoping that these shiny incentives will keep Generation Z content as they toil away at their desks, churning out profits for years on end. 

We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that the giant corporations we want to work for are our friends. Throughout our education, we learn that our goal is to find a job that is supposed to fulfill us financially and emotionally. Our nine-to-five careers may not help us achieve the latter, though, since companies will almost always prioritize their image and profits over real action. 

We need to combine and crowdsource our resources to create impactful initiatives that do not require our employers’ cooperation whatsoever.

Instead of expending all of our energy on our daily employment, those who are privileged to have a full-time desk job can treat their work as a part-time job and focus the rest of their energy on activism. Whether we are starting our own nonprofits or building small businesses, we have to carve our own paths to spearhead lasting change. 

We cannot wait for companies to catch up to our aspirations of creating a healthier planet and a more empathetic society. In the end, we may even have to quit the corporate jobs we have spent our whole lives preparing for, but it will be worth it.

Preanka Pillai is a Rutgers Business School junior majoring in marketing and business analytics and information technology. Her column, "Unboxed," runs on alternate Wednesdays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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