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Corporate Social Workers: The Role of Social Work in Business

October 2, 2023

The intersection of social work and business may seem like an unlikely pairing, but it is becoming an increasingly important aspect of corporate responsibility. Corporate social workers are now being recognized for their role in helping organizations integrate social and environmental concerns into their business practices.

Social workers possess a diverse set of skills that can be applied to various areas of business operations. From supporting corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives to managing sweeping organizational changes, the role of social workers in corporate environments is becoming increasingly prevalent.

For those pursuing a social work education, exploring the responsibilities of corporate social workers, including how they help corporations create better work environments and support social justice, can open up intriguing new career paths.

What Is a Corporate Social Worker? 

A corporate social worker is a social worker who acts as a bridge between the field of social work and traditional business environments. They apply their specialized knowledge and skills to support an organization’s social and environmental goals and objectives, while also providing support and resources to employees and communities. Areas of business culture that corporate social workers may be involved in include corporate social responsibility; change management; diversity, equity and inclusion; and human resources.

One example of how a corporate social worker might operate is by providing resources and guidance to employees who are experiencing personal or work-related difficulties. They may conduct individual or group counseling sessions, provide referrals to community resources, or develop and implement programs that address the needs of employees, such as mental health or stress management programs.

Career paths in corporate social work are typically macro in nature, with a focus on policy, program development and advocacy. Transferable social work skills applicable to this type of work include:

  • Analysis
  • Outreach
  • Advocacy
  • Policy writing
  • Training
  • Program management
  • Group facilitation

The Rise of Corporate Social Work

The demand for corporate social workers is rising due to a growing recognition of the importance of employee well-being, social justice and sustainability in the business world.

A heightened focus on employee well-being and mental health has contributed to increased interest in corporate social work. According to a report by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 50 percent of U.S. workers said they would likely leave their current job for a new job with better mental health benefits, highlighting the need for support and resources in the workplace.

In addition, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a vital component of business strategies in recent years. It involves companies taking responsibility for the social, economic and environmental impacts of their actions. 

The business case for CSR is becoming more apparent, with research indicating that companies that prioritize CSR outperform their competitors in terms of both financial performance and reputation. This provides a strong incentive for organizations to invest in CSR initiatives and hire experts such as corporate social workers to help them achieve their goals.

Corporate Social Worker Roles 

A corporate social worker helps ensure that an organization operates in a socially responsible and ethical manner while also providing support and resources to employees and the wider community. Social responsibility in corporate contexts includes:

  • Employee well-being: Taking steps to improve the well-being of employees. This can include offering health and wellness programs, promoting work-life balance, and ensuring fair compensation and benefits.
  • Ethical business practices: Operating with integrity and transparency, adhering to ethical business practices and upholding the organization’s social and environmental responsibilities. This can include fair labor practices, responsible sourcing and transparency in reporting.
  • Community involvement: Supporting the communities in which the business operates. This can entail donating to local charities, volunteering time and resources, and supporting other local businesses.

Social workers often provide specialized support to organizations looking to improve their social impact or overall company culture. For example, a corporate social worker may partner with an environmental specialist to develop initiatives that support an organization’s sustainability goals. 

Overall, corporate social workers help businesses be more equitable and accountable to employees and the general public. Consider some of the following ways corporate social workers can support business initiatives.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility refers to a company’s efforts to have a positive effect on the community, environment and broader society in which the company operates. Customers and investors are increasingly demanding that companies act responsibly and address social and environmental issues. Companies that fail to do so risk losing customers and investors to competitors. 

Corporate social workers can play a crucial role in CSR by helping companies develop strategies and programs that align with their values and goals. They help organizations identify the most significant social and environmental risks and opportunities, develop strategies to mitigate those risks, and monitor and report progress.

For example, according to Microsoft’s 2021 CSR report, the company’s CSR team includes “experts in environmental sustainability, human rights, supply chain, data science, and social work.” The social workers on the team work on initiatives such as improving access to technology for underserved communities, supporting employees’ mental health and well-being, and promoting diversity and inclusion within the company.

Microsoft’s CSR team also includes a licensed clinical social worker who serves as the director of social impact programs. This individual oversees the company’s social impact programs, including initiatives related to mental health, digital skills training and community engagement.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Increasingly, social workers help spearhead diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in corporate environments. They help companies create and implement DEI strategies and provide DEI training and consultation to employees, management and executive leadership.

For example, social workers can support DEI initiatives by facilitating workshops on unconscious bias. These sessions can help employees and leaders become aware of their own biases and how these biases can impact their decision-making. 

IBM is one example of a company that hires social workers to promote DEI. One of the company’s key DEI initiatives is its Be Equal program, which is designed to help employees foster inclusion in the workplace and understand and address racial and gender-based bias. By providing tools and strategies for identifying and addressing unconscious biases, social workers can help create a more inclusive workplace culture. 

Change Management

Corporate social workers can also play a vital role in change management. Companies often undergo significant changes, such as reorganization or downsizing, which can have a notable impact on employees. Downsizing and reorganizing can lead to a decline in morale among employees, especially if they feel that the changes are unjustified or not well communicated. They may feel demotivated, disengaged and less committed to their work.

A social worker can help an organization maintain a positive work culture and climate during times of upheaval by providing guidance on how to foster a sense of community and support, including prioritizing employee well-being and mental health.

How to Become a Corporate Social Worker 

Similar to other social work roles, the path to becoming a corporate social worker involves obtaining a degree in social work and gaining professional experience in the field. Corporate social work roles may require additional training or certification in relevant areas such as business, management, DEI or CSR. 

Some key steps that can prepare individuals for a career in corporate social work include:

  1. Obtain a degree in social work: A bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work is typically required to become a corporate social worker. Additional coursework that covers relevant areas, such as business, management or CSR, may also be beneficial.
  2. Gain professional experience: After earning a degree, it’s important to gain professional experience in the field. This can be done through internships, volunteer work or entry-level social work positions.
  3. Pursue additional training or certification: To work in a corporate setting, it may be helpful to pursue additional training or certification in areas such as CSR or DEI. This can be done through continuing education programs, workshops or certifications offered by professional organizations.
  4. Find corporate social work positions: Corporate social work roles can be found in a variety of industries, including health care, finance and technology. Aspiring corporate social workers should research companies that prioritize social responsibility and look for job postings that match their skills and experience.
  5. Network with other professionals: Building relationships with other social workers and business professionals can be helpful in finding job opportunities and staying up to date on industry trends and best practices.

Bring Social Responsibility Into Business

Corporate social workers are instrumental in helping businesses be more socially responsible. They help companies develop effective CSR strategies, promote DEI and manage change effectively. As the importance of CSR and employee wellness continues to grow, the role of social workers in corporate environments is likely to grow along with it. 

Becoming a corporate social worker requires a combination of education, experience and additional training. With a strong background in social work and a focus on relevant business and management skills, individuals can make a positive impact in promoting social responsibility and ethical business practices. 

Professionals interested in corporate social work should explore Virginia Commonwealth University’s online Master of Social Work Program format. With a curriculum guided by principles such as social justice, diversity and ethical practice, the program can prepare you to pursue a career in this growing field.

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Korndoerfer, M.A., LPC.*

*Kathleen Korndoerfer, M.A., is a licensed professional counselor with over 10 years experience in the fields of mental health and social work. Kathleen currently practices in Colorado and specializes in the treatment of PTSD & trauma-related disorders and child and adolescent counseling.

Kathleen Korndoerfer, Licensed Professional Counselor, Montrose, CO, 81401 | Psychology Today