In observation of Women’s History Month, we are featuring blogs written by women who work at Vitalyst about their experience at the annual Pennsylvania Conference for Women, which was recently held in Philadelphia. In our fourth installment, Vitalyst Training Engagement Lead Kellie Cochran shares what she learned from author and peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and how it has inspired her to do more.
I had the honor of hearing Leymah Gbowee speak at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. As an international peace activist and women’s rights advocate, Gbowee has a long list of accomplishments, including raising funds for girls across the world to receive an education and organizing Christian and Muslim women as the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace—which played a pivotal role in ending the 14-year Second Liberian Civil War. The movement also brought power to the country’s first female head of state and earned Gbowee the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Her powerful and moving speech focused on one central question: Why should I care enough to help when a problem has nothing to do with me? She answered that question with four simple but compelling points: We should care because the world is a global village, there are more good people than bad, it gives hope to others, and it inspires others to care.
Gbowee has made a career out of helping people. She’s an extraordinary human being whose dedication has positively affected the lives of thousands. How can the rest of us make giving back a part of our own careers?
“If all 9,000 of us in the room did one good deed, it would turn the world upside down.” –Leymah Gbowee at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women
After hearing her speak, I started thinking about why businesses participate in charitable giving and offer their employees opportunities to volunteer. Why do businesses with a bottom line and an eye toward profits feel compelled to donate money and resources to charitable causes? What is the business case for giving beyond tax deductions and the good feeling it gives you? After doing some research and making a list much longer than I anticipated, I’ve pared it down from many reasons to a handful that I find most interesting.
Reason #1: Volunteering enhances employee camaraderie through team building
In the technology business, we understand how integral electronic communication and collaboration are in today’s workplace. However, many studies indicate that regular social interactions can have a positive effect on business outcomes1. Employees who gather outside the office trust each other more. This trust translates into an increased willingness to collaborate and cooperate, which snowballs into more effective team performance and higher levels of employee engagement.
Reason #2: Participating in charitable events increases employee recognition
Employees work hard to get the attention of supervisors, managers and company executives. By participating in functions outside the office, it increases both the opportunities and the methods by which they can be recognized. For example, the Walt Disney World Resort organization saw a 15 percent increase in employee satisfaction after developing an employee recognition program2. Elevated employee satisfaction increases productivity and encourages company loyalty. Happy employees work hard and champion company values.
Reason #3: The Millennials are coming
Currently, Millennials make up 45 percent of the workforce. Of that group, 28 percent already occupy management roles, while two-thirds expect to be in management positions in the future. How does volunteering factor in? Millennials have come to be known as the “Giving Generation.” Studies show that 60 percent of them donate an average of $481 a year and that, as a group, they volunteer more frequently than their parents’ generation3. To remain competitive, businesses must recognize that Millennials want the opportunity to do meaningful work at a socially responsible company. A robust charity and volunteering portfolio can attract Millennials without a major overhaul of operating procedures and policies.
Reason #4: Happy employees stick around longer
All of the previous points speak to increasing employee retention. Engaged and valued employees working for a company whose values they believe in are less likely to leave. Keeping employees happy should be a top priority for business leaders, as turnover has an incredibly high cost on both productivity and profit. When skilled employees leave, they take their skills with them. Hiring and training new employees has a significant impact on productivity—historical knowledge is difficult to transfer and the relied-upon skills previous employees brought to the organization are simply lost altogether. For example, customer service errors are more common with new trainees and can damage important business relationships.
The monetary cost of replacing employees is also substantial and increases with position level. For example, it costs roughly 20 percent of the annual salary to replace an employee making between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, but that number jumps to a staggering 213 percent when replacing a person making $100,000 or more4. If something as simple as organizing volunteer opportunities can mitigate employee turnover, it is well worth the effort.
Vitalyst promotes positive change and affords us the opportunity to get involved. We partner with TechGirlz and IT Works to share our technology expertise, and we help out with food drives for Philabundance and the Greater Cleveland Food Bank during the winter holidays.
After listening to Gbowee speak about how caring inspires hope and thinking about how creating opportunities for hope can help us all succeed, I want to do more and I encourage everyone to do the same.
In her speech, Gbowee challenged all attendees by saying, “If all 9,000 of us in the room did one good deed, it would turn the world upside down.” Every drop of good is inspiring. Let’s get started!
1. “Reasons Why Workplace Camaraderie Matters,” by Lauren Levine, June 25, 2014. 2. “Why Employee Recognition is So Important,” by Kim Harrison. 3. “The Next Generation of American Giving,” infographic by Blackbaud.com. 4. “Employee Retention: The Real Cost of Losing an Employee,” by Christina Merhar, Feb. 4, 2016.
Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist, trained social worker, women’s rights advocate and 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate. She is founder and current president of the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa. She was the founding head of the Liberian Reconciliation Initiative, and was the co-founder and former executive director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-A). She is also a founding member and former Liberia Coordinator of Women in Peacebuilding Network/West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WIPNET/WANEP). Gbowee played a pivotal role in ending the Second Liberian Civil War, which is chronicled in her memoir, “Mighty Be Our Powers,” and in the award-winning documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”