Many companies use job frameworks to provide a consistent way to describe roles, responsibilities and increase transparency on career paths. Job frameworks consist of job functions, job families and jobs descriptions. According to the Harvard’s HR Policy, job functions refer to broad “areas of recognized professional expertise and practice” such as sustainability. Each job function typically include several job families which are sub-specialties of “similar, related jobs within a job function” with various levels of skills, responsibility and tenure. Examples of sustainability job families could include sustainability strategy, project management, reporting and procurement.
Creating a clear job framework provides consistent language to evaluate positions and job levels, allows for workforce planning and career development and ensures the right assignments and opportunities for employees. The interdisciplinary nature of sustainability and the recent professionalizing of corporate sustainability would tremendously benefit from this common human resources practice.
From a career development perspective, not having job family profiles translates to a lack of a clear career path and ambiguous expectations for promotions and compensation for sustainability professionals working in the field today. Without addressing these root issues, sustainability talent will look externally for growth and development opportunities.
As sustainability continues to increase in importance and sustainability roles continue to evolve and multiply, HR teams must be thinking about how to grow and develop these employees and create the long-term talent pipeline. Pragmatically speaking, there are many reasons why this should be a HR priority. Here are a few:
1. Sustainability professionals are highly specialized
The new generation of sustainability professionals are entering their roles with advanced degrees in sustainability and have already invested heavily in their education and specialized training to work in sustainability. Unlike previous generations, most will not have the same level of flexibility and willingness to laterally move across departments in the hopes of advancing further up the organization.
GreenBiz’s State of the Profession 2022 Report continues to find a consistent trend over the past six year that over two-thirds of sustainability professions are hired in from the outside. This shows that sustainability sophistication is increasing and companies are recognizing the unique skillset needed in these roles may not exist internally. Over time it will become increasingly rare to find sustainability professions that moved laterally into corporate sustainability positions and the days of internally meandering career paths are numbered.
2. Fierce demand for sustainability talent
The State of the Profession 2022 Report also found green jobs to be the fastest growing hiring category in the U.S. and that based on current trajectory, the demand for green skills outpaces the human capital needed to meet our climate targets. The trajectory is only expected to accelerate — the Inflation Reduction Act, the SEC proposal on ESG disclosures, the more than a third of S&P Global 1200 companies with science based targets, and the general growing urgency on sustainability all ensure this continuing demand for talent. Combine this with the tight labor market and over 47 million people that left their jobs in 2021 and you get to the current battle for sustainability talent today. This pattern also extends beyond the boundaries of the U.S. According to a recent CNBC article, ESG and sustainability job postings on Indeed increased 468 percent in India, 986 percent in Malaysia, 257 percent in Singapore, and 442 percent in Hong Kong since early 2019.
3. Changing preferences and normalization of ‘job hopping’
Young professionals entering into the field today are spending less time in a job than previous generations. In 2021, CareerBuilder analyzed resume data and found that millennials tend to stay in a job for an average of two years and nine months and Gen Z-ers averaged two years and three months. Baby Boomers and Gen X have much longer tenures, averaging a little over eight years and five years respectively. This generational preference shift and the demand for constant learning will create pressure to have clearly defined options for career progression or risk losing the sustainability talent you worked so hard to find and recruit.
4. Dollars and sense
HR Digest found the average cost of employee turnover to equate to 1.5-2 times their annual salary. This amounts to a $160 billion cost to U.S. companies each year. Given the specialized skillset and the fierce demand, we can expect this cost to be even higher for sustainability. This is especially true within focus areas such as ESG, reporting and decarbonization. Ellen Weinreb, CEO of the Weinreb Group, a leading sustainability executive search firm, shared her observation in a recent article stating “candidates getting offers at two times what they were earning” as opposed to the 5-10 percent typically observed with changing roles.
Creating a better sustainability hiring template
Without a clear job framework, sustainability roles will continue to be mapped to adjacent departments ranging from marketing, communications, philanthropy, research and development, operations, environmental health and safety, engineering, investor relationships, government affairs, supply chain and more.
The value of many years of experience in a mature professions such as marketing or product development does not translate in the same way to a rapidly developing profession such as sustainability.
Because sustainability job functions and families often don’t exist, sustainability jobs are created based on other job profiles which are not always a great match. The default goals and responsibilities and even the compensation and growth trajectories cannot just be cut and pasted to a sustainability role. Here are three things to keep in mind when hiring a sustainability role.
1. Focus to the right experience
Sustainability today looks very different from a few years ago. The value of many years of experience in a mature professions such as marketing or product development does not translate in the same way to a rapidly developing profession such as sustainability.
So if a sustainability leadership role focused on ESG is mapped to an adjacent and more developed department such as marketing, there is the risk of defaulting to the same accepted experience requirements used for leadership roles in traditional marketing roles. So while 10-plus years of experience may be a realistic expectation for a marketing director, this criteria applied to ESG or corporate sustainability role leave a very small applicant pool because sustainability only recently accelerated into the mainstream. And those with 10 years of experience might not have the specialized skillset that only recently developed. It is critical that we recognize this context and focus on hiring for the right experience over the most experience.
2. Create effective and empowered roles
The lack of a sustainability job framework and job family profile can also be problematic by creating biased priorities and prevent the development of holistic sustainability programs.
For example, a sustainability role based in operations may disproportionally focus on energy efficiency improvements and find these initiatives easier to prioritize with their leadership as opposed to product innovation or supply chain initiatives. This can also create unrealistic expectations for the sustainability role to heavily focus on tactical initiatives prioritized by the department the role is mapped to.
Instead corporate sustainability roles should be increasingly focusing on driving overarching sustainability strategy for the entire organization. Similarly, continuing to map sustainability to other functional departments also affects the hiring criteria and potentially causes bias in the talent recruitment strategy by creating an overemphasis in a particular area.
3. Identify new growth tracks, development opportunities and fair compensation
When sustainability career track is mapped to a different department, the growth tracks and compensation follow that department’s trends instead of creating better fitting ones for the unique career that is sustainability. The core competencies and metrics identified for career advancement in traditional roles are very different from those critical in a sustainability role, which is increasingly focused on change management and embedding sustainability into the business strategy. This requires a very specific skillset and should have separate advancement criteria that cannot be easily mapped to adjacent departments. There is also a lack of consistent compensation in sustainability because each business is mapping sustainability to a different department and using that department’s salary range as a template. This makes it difficult to know if your business is competitive for talent.
As sustainability continues to develop, it is important to recognize its distinct differences and the context as a newly professionalized field with exponentially increasing demand. Due to these unique circumstances, sustainability roles should not be mapped to an adjacent department and requires a dedicated job family profile, career tracks and separate consideration. The management consulting group McKinsey & Company found two of the top four reasons cited for leaving a job includes unsustainable expectations and lack of career development and advancement potential, all issues that plague the current field of sustainability today. Without having job family profiles and career development paths, sustainability professionals will continue to look externally due to the lack of clearly defined expectations, growth and advancement opportunities and compensation.