With multiple stakeholders competing for their time and energy, executives must think strategically about giving back to the community. Many business leaders feel an urge to get involved but struggle to find an effective way to leverage their organizations and stoke the passions of their employees.
Community involvement is also becoming more and more important to attracting and retaining younger workers. A 2006 joint survey by Cone Inc. and AMP Insights said 79 percent of full time workers age 13-25 said they want to work for a company that cares about how it affects or contributes to the community.
Two leaders, Northrop Grumman Vice President Linda Mills and President of CSC Jim Sheaffer, have learned to focus on areas that are relevant to both their employees and their own personal interests.
Mills has taken up science, technology, math and engineering (STEM) education as her cause of choice. It’s a hot topic of late, with President Barack Obama pledging $260 million to public-private STEM efforts in his “Educate to Innovate” program.
“There is a growing shortage of science-based talent in our workplaces and universities,” she said. “It has become a serious problem for our nation. I have spoken to groups of young people to encourage their involvement in STEM, and my company has taken a leadership position in efforts to create interest in science-related areas.”
Mills chose the topic because of her own passion for math and science, which she has pursued since she was a child.
“My whole career has been devoted to science and IT,” she said. “Certainly, getting the younger generation excited about STEM careers is good for a company like Northrop Grumman. It also offers very rewarding careers and an opportunity to support our national interests.”
STEM education also supports the future of U.S. national security and keeping the country’s competitive edge, Mills said.
“As President Obama has said, America’s economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity and our country’s technological advantage is key to America’s growth and safety,” she said. “Today’s young generation will provide tomorrow’s scientific innovations that will enhance our way of life and maintain our technology leadership.”
Following through on its strategy, Northrop Grumman recently sponsored a Washington, D.C.-area high-school workshop about cybersecurity that attracted more than 200 students and teachers.
“The workshop brought students together with college recruiters, industry cybersecurity professionals and Howard Schmidt, the special assistant to the president and cybersecurity coordinator. The workshop was a huge success, increasing the students’ awareness and excitement about a career in cybersecurity,” Mills said.
Northrop Grumman sponsors a number of other education-related efforts, including CyberPatriot III, the premier high-school cyber-defense competition, which is generating national interest in cybersecurity careers.
Mills is also on the board of a number of foundations, including the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.
“The foundation is launching an innovative Early Childhood STEM Learning Through the Arts initiative that builds upon its 30-year history developing and delivering early childhood arts education programs,” she said.
For her numerous efforts to improve technology and science education, Mills was honored with the 2009 Woman of the Year Award by Learning for Life and the Boy Scouts of America, National Capital Area Council.
In terms of community involvement, Mills advised people to follow their interests and reinforce their excitement about their career paths.
“My advice to young people considering entering any professional field is to set the bar high, strive for excellence, love what you do and don’t be afraid to take risks,” she said. “Having a passion for your chosen field is critical — it has kept me motivated and engaged throughout my career.”
Residing and working in the Washington, D.C.-area, Sheaffer felt the call to support military families through his work with the Red Cross.
“I believe that all of us in the business community have a responsibility to support the local communities in which we operate,” he said. “Those of us who are headquartered in the Washington area have a special responsibility to engage in charitable initiatives that have national impact.”
With its large number of military clients, Sheaffer said CSC has a special affinity toward service men and women and their families.
“Nearly one-third of our U.S. workforce has served in the military and they know the needs of service members,” he added.
Sheaffer said he chose to work with the Red Cross in particular “for the extensive services it provides the men and women of our nation’s armed forces and their families.”
He has chaired the Red Cross Fire and Ice Ball the past two years, which is the organization’s largest annual fund-raising event.
“The ball generates funds that make possible the services it delivers every day in our region,” he said. “As a business community, I firmly believe that we owe a debt to our warrior community that we can never fully repay.”
The company also encourages employees to be involved with community organizations and charities that support military families. Sheaffer said he felt it was the responsibility of business leaders to find a way to get involved and motivate employees as well.
“Identify a cause that generates passion in your organization, and try to concentrate your efforts so that you move the needle, rather than spreading your efforts across a broad base,” he said. “Engage your workforce from top to bottom; you will be surprised at the energy you will be able to generate.”<P>