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Corporate Conscience: How Should Big Companies Advocate for Sustainability and Inclusivity?

Activism means reaching out to your own communities, including your colleagues and leaders.

Corporate Conscience: How Should Big Companies Advocate for Sustainability and Inclusivity?

Employees today dedicate more than just eight hours daily to their work. So it should come as no surprise that they'd prefer to spend those hours–nearly half of their lives, really–working for an employer with a clear moral purpose.

Specifically, millennials and generation Z professionals tend to ask: Do my employers care about my well-being? Do they operate ethically, or is profit the only goal? Do they not stand for a higher purpose, towards which I can apply myself?

These questions call for employers to develop what you might call a corporate conscience. Issues surrounding sustainability and inclusivity, for instance, are very important to the professionals who comprise today’s emerging talent market, and so it makes sense for companies to follow suit.

But what would a corporate conscience look like, in practice?

Executives of AXA Philippines have a good idea. Through their time with the multinational insurance firm, AXA Philippines Chief Operations Officer Malet Lepatan, Chief Human Resources Officer Jaspreet Kakar, and Chief Financial Officer Gael Lapie have each seen a real corporate conscience up close. Here's what they have to say about how employees and employers alike can and should advocate for sustainability and inclusivity in the workplace.

Make it more than a slogan.

True activism means living out your message. “Many companies have programs, but I’ve seen how AXA seriously pursues it,” explains Chief Operations Officer Malet Lepatan. “It’s not just a slogan or a rallying cry, or something that is part of the program, but never really implemented.”

Case in point: AXA's commitment to environmentalism and sustainability, which the company enacts through policy-based initiatives. Specifically, the company implements an e-Policy to drastically reduce paper waste. Even before the pandemic, AXA had already convinced 70 percent of its customers—many of whom were initially adamant about using paper contracts—to go paperless. Its app-based platform, Emma by AXA, has helped here.

AXA also implements recycling initiatives, which is why napkins and toiletpaper at the AXA head office are made from recycled paper waste. Plus, through programs like Aling Tindera and partners like Plastic Credit Exchange, AXA collects and recycles its plastic waste to prevent these from ending up in landfills and oceans.

AXA customers are encouraged to do their part to protect the environment. By simply registering to Emma by AXA, they can donate a mangrove seedling or 15kg worth of recyclable plastic in their name to partners Communities Organized for Resource Allocation (CORA) and Plastic Credit Exchange.

Malet also explains that AXA wants these sustainability efforts to have an exponential effect through their influence on employees. “When we sponsor something, the objective isn’t just to do the activity and that’s it. The objective is for our employees to bring them home,” she says. “We initiate sustainability measures, but the sustaining part happens when our employees start bringing them home and practicing them.”

Recognize that individuality adds value to the company.

AXA understands that company diversity is important, but insufficient if it exists only for its own sake. “It’s not enough to just have a diverse workforce," says Chief Human Resources Officer Jaspreet Kakar. "It’s more important to have a workforce that is diverse but also feels included."

This requires two things: that employees feel safe about expressing unique views, and that they can go to work without leaving a part of themselves at the door. By valuing colleagues beyond their skill sets, you not only foster a less stressful work environment, but also allow these traits to enhance business outcomes.

“If you are a sports
person outside of work, we would like to celebrate that. If you play an individual sport, you will also bring a lot of grit and determination and a never-say-die attitude," Jaspreet says. "If you play a team sport, you will bring the same collaboration in your team and AXA. If you are an entrepreneur on the side, you have that risk-taking ability that we want you to bring to AXA. So, we will celebrate the fact that you are an entrepreneur."

Part of creating a diverse and inclusive environment is building a sense of community, a support ecosystem. Which is why, prior to the pandemic, AXA used to hold the AXA Weekday Market, where employees and communities with small businesses were able to sell their wares to AXA employees. Efforts like this—along with AXA's sponsorships of employee athletes who compete in national, regional, and global sporting events—show that the company values people for much more than what they do at the office.

Put your money where your mouth is.

Money talks, and Chief Financial Officer Gael Lapie knows it. That's why AXA has consciously divested from unethical businesses and has made significant investments in sustainability. “It’s a message for the industry that AXA, a big investor, is now orienting its investments into ESG-rated [that is, environmental-, social-, and government-rated] industries," he says. "It's a big message, too, for other industries to change and to transform."

AXA also applies this philosophy as an insurer. Small or novel industries tend to encounter difficulties finding an insurer—AXA acknowledges that there are risks involved. "Essentially, an insurer needs to be very proactive to find solutions to be able to insure these new industries quickly, to allow them to expand and to have a safety net.” Gael says. Still, for AXA, the positive impact these sustainable and transformative industries can contribute outweigh those risks. And with the help of its engineers, AXA developed solutions to be able to insure and support them.

The same attitude applies internally, through AXA's investments in its own people. Leaders, for instance, are incentivized to implement sustainable practices, and to promote a more inclusive, diverse workplace. Due allocations are given to accelerate the wage balance between the genders, such that women are afforded opportunities to rise to executive ranks. AXA is also continuously investing in upgrading its facilities so that differently-abled professionals can work comfortably. Clearly, AXA understands that commitments and advocacies need to be backed by resources.

AXA made a big statement in the 2021 Investor Summit when it launched AXA for Progress Index–a tool that measures how well it integrates sustainability in its operations as an investor, insurer, and role model company. Under these three pillars, AXA defines seven KPIs to measure how it is progressing its sustainability agenda each year.

To push this mission, AXA incentivized their senior management to seriously progress the sustainability agenda in AXA’s operations and beyond.

Let your personal convictions guide your work.

If you have personal advocacies, “start now, don’t wait for politics,” says Gael. Malet, for her part, brought her own advocacy—Ang Arko ng Pilipinas—to AXA’s attention. Gael, on the other hand, pursues an advocacy for mental health and the LGBTQ community, both at work and at home.

AXA employees and Ang Arko ng Pilipinas, Inc. spent a weekend morning over arts and crafts and home clean-up in 2019.

As a company, AXA is committed to supporting its employees to "move the world forward." This means doing meaningful work as part of a world-leading insurance organization that provides millions of customers, and the societies they live in, the protection to progress with confidence.

In line with this, AXA holds an annual AXA Week for Good. Here, employees can volunteer in activities like plastic collection for recycling, assembling solar lamps for underprivileged communities, packing food for malnourished communities, and fundraising for partners like Ang Arko ng Pilipinas and Best Buddies. This year’s AXA Week for Good was held from September 20 to 24.

Left: AXA Philippines President and CEO Rahul Hora, MyShelter Foundation Founder and Executive Director Illac Diaz, and AXA Philippines Chief Human Resources Officer Jaspreet Kakar. Right: AXA employees assembled solar lamps in partnership with MyShelter Foundation in 2019. Solar lamps were provided to communities with limited or no access to electricity.

“You can never rise if only a few
rise with you," Jaspreet says. "Unless you raise everybody,
you may find short-term gains, but they are never sustainable. So, all our work is to move the world forward collectively." This has been especially important to him in the context of the pandemic. "We work to make sure our employees stay healthy physically, mentally, and financially. We have a strong ambition to become a leading insurer, with high focus on health insurance and other health-related services. So, what we’re doing as a business is in line with the advocacies that we are trying to build for our employees and our communities.”

Just as employees seek out meaningful work, so too should employers seek to provide it. And when work is meaningful and fulfilling, it contributes to an overall sense of well-being for the entire community. That’s probably why, when asked how they feel about AXA, all three executives exclaimed: “Proud!”

Interested in building your own success story with AXA Philippines? Follow
them on
Facebook and LinkedIn.

This article was created by Summit StoryLabs in partnership with AXA Philippines.
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