A conversation about CSR

The Career Profiles in Linguistics section regularly highlights career paths taken by linguists. If you would like to recommend someone (including yourself) for a future profile, please contact Career Linguist.


Renee TomlinCorporate Social Responsibility or CSR is an exciting arena for people wishing to enact social change both within a workplace itself, and also within the greater, global community. Just about every company now has at the very least an initiative around CSR, most of which are being grown rapidly to respond to a call for more awareness of the need to be more socially and environmentally responsible as organizations. CSR initiatives vary in terms of scale and target reach. For example, an internal—or employee-centered—corporate program could focus on simply promoting and facilitating the employee’s participation in a health & fitness workshop. In this program, the target reach ties directly to the number of employees on site. Compared to a global community initiative, this program remains relatively small in scale and differs in terms of impact measurement.

I recently spoke with Renee who shared some of the details of her work in social corporate responsibility within the private sector.  In her words:

In broad terms, corporate social responsibility is an evolving and multifaceted core business issue surrounding the want and need to ‘do good’ in the community in order to achieve the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. (Benn & Bolton, 2011, p. 56-62). This sector includes philanthropy, strategic partnerships, and the creation of social, environmental, and intellectual value.

Corporate social responsibility is a diverse and unfolding field of work. It does not require a background in any one particular field, and thus, is open to those with various educational and professional experiences. It revolves around partnerships and collaboration amongst a number of stakeholders in business, government, and the non-profit sector (to name just a few). Linguists have a place within this field as we understand patterns, communicative goals, and how language and communication offer viable solutions to issues at hand. Many partnerships are global, thus requiring a heightened understanding of cross-cultural awareness and second language.

I asked her if she would share an example from her work:

An external facing CSR initiative tends to involve a more varied set of stakeholders, like non-profit partners, governments, media, and the public. For example, a company’s commitment and philanthropic contributions to advancing achievement of the Millennium Development Goals qualifies as a global CSR initiative. Under this initiative, a company develops partnerships to provide support and extends product donations and technical expertise to ensure that women and children are provided access to the care they need. Of course, the scale and target reach are measured quite differently from an internal program. These examples are specific to the arena of Global Health, but it is important to keep in mind that there are number of social and environmental CSR strategies. Think sustainable sourcing, fair-trade, grant offerings, etc.

When I asked Renee to describe a bit more in depth what it is exactly that she does as part of the day-to-day of her work:

Most of the tasks I perform regularly in my entry level position revolve around administrative duties and short-term projects. As a consulting Project Assistant to the Corporate Contributions team, I assist in internal and external communications surrounding specific projects, initiatives, and events. I have relatively undefined responsibilities, which range from scheduling, writing briefs, and quick-fire research to synthesizing metrics & evaluation pieces and partner relationship management. These undefined responsibilities present a bit of a double edged sword: on the one hand, I am able to work independently and take initiative, but on the other hand, at times I am left wondering exactly what I should be doing to accomplish a particular task. I realize, though, that this is par for course and part of the professional ‘learning curve’ in an entry-level position within a large corporate context.

I most enjoy meeting and working with partners on the finalization of projects, as well as learning about global health issues throughout my research. That said, there is no one particular task that I enjoy the most; rather, it is achieving the underlying goal of the project that drives my enjoyment. I’m not intellectually challenged by my administrative duties; however, I see them as a foundational learning piece for the future.

To this second point of Renee’s, I would hasten to add that most jobs have some administrative component.  Strategies for understanding these perhaps become a good question for an informational interview. Most of us have strategies for tackling administrative duties, and some people actually really enjoy them. Me personally, I find that I like to set aside a good chunk of a couple hours to tackle something like a budgeting spreadsheet. I can get myself into sort of a meditative state, and I find that my brain starts to make some cognitive associations when I am so engaged, so I come to think of it as time thinking about big picture, and time well-spent.

I then asked Renee to share her perspective on developments in the field where she sees opportunity for up-and-coming linguists:

The fields of Communications and Knowledge Management tend to draw on linguists’ strengths. There has been an increase in focus on Metrics and Evaluation within CSR, which I suspect will continue to grow in order to deduce what types of value the business delivers both short and long term. It is here that a Linguist can step in with both traditional and non-traditional methodologies to evaluate programs, grants, partnerships, etc.

(for more on Knowledge Management, read my recent conversation with Charlotte Linde)

Finally, Renee sums up her approach to thinking about the connections among linguistics and her various work projects in a way that really resonates with the Career Linguist approach!

Although I may not necessarily be capitalizing on my background in Linguistics in all day-to-day job tasks (i.e, transcription, discourse analysis, semiotic analysis) I operate daily within the mindset of a linguist. With a heightened awareness of how language and communication operate within particular communities of practice, I am able to quickly adapt to various work places and work styles. I also draw on my education in language and communication to explain and dissect miscommunications or mis-aligned expectations within the workplace and come up with solutions. Being a linguist with a background in language and communication helps me to understand why an organization operates the way it does, and how to best contribute to the shared mission. 

And we really couldn’t ask for more than that! Thank you Renee for being so generous in talking about your work. If anyone would like to read a bit more about Renee’s linguistic approach to CSR, please see Delivering Value CSR.


Sectors profiled in the “Profiles in Linguistics” series: Corporate Social Responsibility, Healthcare Communications, Library Science, Knowledge Management, Program Evaluation, Publishing, Social Media Marketing, Naming, Tech, User Experience Research.


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