Talent Show

Today's jobs, tomorrow's sustainability profession

New Opportunities

I was excited to partner with GreenBiz on its 2016 State of the Profession Report. This year’s report finds salaries are up, budgets are up and headcount is up. All encouraging and good news.

Many years ago, I had made some weak attempts at a salary survey. GreenBiz’s data and report always has been so strong, that I have been referring jobseekers and sustainability professionals to this data for years. The partnership made good sense.

Included in the report was a review of Talent Show (this column) after contributing to GreenBiz for the past six years. I’ve observed CSOs evolve from elusive to increasingly mainstream, competencies evolve to include more volatility and ambiguity. I’ve also covered a good deal on the lifecycle of an employee from recruitment to retirement.

State of the Team: Growing, but more diversity needed

Sustainability team headcounts and budgets are growing at nearly half of the survey respondents’ organizations. Headcount increased in 46 percent of respondents’ organizations while 41 percent stayed the same. Budgets increased in 40 percent while 42 percent stayed the same. More resources are getting embedded into functions ranging from supply chain to product innovation, two areas where sustainability budgets showed an increase.

Sustainability leaders also might be growing more influential within companies. According to the report, the number of sustainability VPs reporting to the C-suite or board of directors increased from 33 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2015.

Leadership is becoming (ever so slightly) more diverse. Research my firm conducted in 2014 found female CSOs grew 29 percent to 42 percent from 2011-2014. CSOs are also starting their position with less tenure than in previous years, suggesting they might be younger and less immersed in historical company culture.

The more sobering finding of this year’s State of the Profession report is that female executives’ total compensation was just 82 percent of men’s. Sustainability teams continue to lack racial diversity; of 998 respondents to the State of the Profession survey, 87 percent of sustainability VPs, 90 percent of directors and 81 percent of managers were white.

External hires taking over

To me, the most interesting finding in this year’s report was the shift to more external hires.

In 2012 under half (45 percent) of sustainability executives were hired externally. The 2016 report survey found the opposite balance: The majority (59 percent) is now external hires. 

However of those hired externally, the majority (55 percent) are junior staff at the staff and manager level. Only 11 percent of  VPs were external hires.

Heads of sustainability tell me it’s challenging to move to another company. If you are a VP or above, those "heads of" sustainability roles, filled externally, are hard to find.

It’s interesting to consider how the source of a new employee affects experience and effectiveness.

The organizational tradeoffs are clear: Internal people know the politics and external hires have presumably greater subject matter expertise. For example, a company filling a sustainability role internally may require an interest in sustainability while a company hiring externally may require five-plus years building a sustainability program within an existing competitor’s company.

Which do hiring managers prefer?

Anecdotally, I’m hearing them say they value the expertise, established networks and unique sustainability skills of external candidates over internal hires. However, I might be biased because the hiring managers talking to a recruiter are having that de facto exploration on bringing in outside talent.

Salary: Move for the money, growth at the top

One interesting finding is that longevity negatively affects salary. The survey finds sustainability leaders with longer tenures actually make less money. Directors with three or less years at their company make $165,000, compared with $147,000 for four to six years and $146,000 for seven to 10 years. Only those with over 25 years at a company bucked this trend.

I wonder if the millennials are helping to raise the average salary for younger people — as if Mark Zuckerberg is bringing up the average salary for all.   

Sustaining the profession

Is the corporate sustainability profession poised to flourish? The data suggests yes.