How companies can (d) make the environment more equitable

More and more companies are taking on responsibility in the context of so-called major social transformations. These sometimes refer – in the context of an economy based on solidarity – to the responsibility of companies to free the economy from social relationships, as Karl Polanyi (1944) diagnosed early on. More and more companies are currently referring to Uwe Schneidewind’s (2018) considerations on sustainability as a cultural transformation project.

By Andrea D. Bührmann

Companies pursue different goals, but – regardless of the respective objective – most companies use so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for this. Since the beginning of the 21st century at the latest, ecological and / or economic sustainability aspects have been increasingly addressed: For example, companies donate to initiatives for resource-saving production facilities or are committed to more climate-friendly supply chains. For some years now, companies have also been addressing the issue of sustainability with a view to diversity. In the interests of social sustainability, a corresponding diversity management system (DiM) should, for example, recruit new workers and create an appreciative and appreciative working atmosphere for all employees. Companies not only try to avoid transaction costs, they also hope to develop more innovative and sustainable solutions in various teams.

Bringing CSR and DiM concepts together

From the perspective of reflective diversity research (cf. Bührmann 2020) and CSR research (cf. Schneider2012), a distinction can be made between at least four proportional provisions in which companies (can) combine their strategic CSR concepts with corresponding DiM concepts:

Table 1: Determination of the relationship between CSR and DiM concepts (cf. Bührmann 2017).

CSR-Typus Tentative

Relationship determinations

DiM Typus
CSR 0.0:

Gesell. Engagement – economic & legal responsibility Typus

No reciprocity DiM 0.0:

Discrimination & fairness Typus

CSR 1.0:                                 social sponsoring Typus Indirect reciprocity DiM 1.0:                                   Access & legitimacy Typus
CSR 2.0: Type of corporate & social value creation Direct reciprocity DiM 2.0:                                  Learning & effectiveness Typus
CSR 3.0: proactive type beyond organization Strong direct reciprocity DiM 3.0:

Inclusive & transformative  Typus

The relationships listed in the table differ: The strategic types DiM 0.0 and CSR 0.0 concentrate on meeting the minimum legal standards. Companies that can be assigned to this DiM type often implement mentoring programs, especially for women and historically discriminated minorities. This should make it easier for the new and supposedly ‘other’ groups of employees to assimilate. In the context of this CSR type, on the other hand, social responsibility is assumed either ‘per se’, ie through the sheer entrepreneurial activity, or through the mere compliance with applicable legal regulations. There is no discernible reciprocity between the two types. They can and will be pursued independently of one another. That changes, however, with the following types.

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DiM 1.0: Differences as Opportunities

Because the CSR type 1.0 and the DiM type 1.0 already refer to each other at least indirectly, insofar as both are about the development and optimization of market access. However, different strategies and tactics are pursued here, which are not coordinated with one another. In the CSR type 1.0, the focus is on philanthropic activities such as donations, sponsoring and patronage, which do not affect the company’s core business. In addition, so-called corporate citizenship also belongs to this type. Companies see themselves as responsible “corporate citizens”.

In contrast, the DiM type 1.0 is about using certain differences between the members of a company as advantages. The focus is on a market-oriented objective and so these new, ‘different’ members of the organization are used in particular in contact with their new, ‘different’ customers. Special departments are often set up that are not systematically integrated into the entire company.

DiM 2.0: Generating added value for society

In the CSR type 2.0 and in the DiM type 2.0, the focus is now also on the goal of generating social and not just – of whatever kind – financial added value. Similar tactics are used. However, CSR 2.0 is more effective im organizational environment. It is about generating long-term social added value and thus making a sustainable contribution to social development. Schneider (2012) names, among other things, product and process innovations, resource efficiency, but also sustainable and responsible supply and value chains as examples. In this way, activities are addressed that have a direct and immediate effect on the business strategy. But beyond that, it is important that companies pursue a sustainable development path with continuous optimization. In this respect, CSR activities are viewed here as investments in the future of the company.

In contrast, the strategies and tactics of DiM 2.0 are more likely in the respective organization. The focus is on the integration of employees. As in DiM type 1.0, all employees of the organizations should have the same opportunities and, as in DiM type 0.0, existing differences should be recognized with appreciation. But it is also about changing the corporate culture and the structures themselves, so that the differences between the employees can be ‘used’ as best as possible. The goal is also to change the culture in the company.

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DiM 3.0 and CSR 3.0: the “double helix”

There is, however, a strong direct reciprocity with regard to DiM type 3.0 and CSR type 3.0. Both strategic types mutually refer to one another, insofar as they rely on continuous co-shaping of their organizational environment and not only transform the organizational processes and structures, but also their environment. Yes, it seems that a double helix consisting of DiM and CSR strategies and tactics is growing together.

With this in mind, companies try to create sustainable forms of economic activity together with their various stakeholders. In contrast to the CSR type 2.0, in which the focus is on optimization processes, strategic differentiation processes can be established with regard to type 3.0. A continuous dialogue with external stakeholders is sought. Criticism of the company’s strategic activities is seen as an important sensor for anticipating upcoming social challenges. In this way, companies become agenda-setters: They are no longer driven by social problems, but rather promote ‘good’ solutions to the problems.

The focus is on striving for social added value and profit in the company. In short: CSR 3.0 takes care of societal challenges that only influence company activities in a non-direct sense (e.g. human rights; education inside and outside the company, for example through cooperation in basic training; anti-corruption measures and awareness-raising about this, etc.), however could generate added value for companies in the long term. According to Schneider (cf. 2012: 36), this is based on a motto of the management researcher and consultant Peter Drucker, who said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it”.

And it is precisely this motto that guides the 3.0 type of DiM. The aim of this type is firstly to make the organizational structures themselves more inclusive. Secondly, however, it is also a matter of making the environment more just. The focus here is on the ‘social case’ and the dimensions of social and ethnic background and educational background are advancing to very relevant dimensions.

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Fujimoto, Azmat and Subramaniam (2019) described a prototypical example of such a DiM type in their case study of a large Indonesian paper company that aims both at an inclusive organization and at the diversity-appropriate transformation of the company’s environment: “By seeking the ecological validity of inclusive organizations, organizations can move beyond an insular perspective, of how diversity within an organizational context contributes to greater business success, as well as community development by integrating a community-wide perspective. Our study suggests inclusion is a multiple level (individual, relational, collective, and structural) concept, which involves personal empowering, relationship building, resource exchange, and structural governance facilitated by those who include (eg the organization) and those who are not included (eg minority members). “(Fujimoto et al. 2019: 740)

These two proactive types 3.0 of the CRS and the DiM should – from my perspective – be further supported by appropriate measures – e.g. competitive advantages in public tenders or tax breaks – so that companies can sustainably promote ecological, economic and social transformations and social responsibility beyond the market can take over.

Prof. Dr. Andrea D. Bührmann
heads the Goettingen Diversity Research Institute at the University of Göttingen.
[email protected]


Bührmann, Andrea D. (2017): Un / clarified relationships? Considerations on the relationship between (corporate) social responsibility and diversity management from the perspective of reflective diversity research, in: Hansen, Katrin (Ed.): CSR and Diversity Management. Successful diversity in organizations, Wiesbaden, pp. 103-116

Bührmann, Andrea D. (2021): Reflexive Diversity Research – An Introduction, Cambridge

Fujimoto, Yuka/Azmat, Fara/Subramaniam, Nava (2019): Creating Community-Inclusive Organizations. Managerial Accountability Framework. In: Business & Society 58, 4, S. 712–748.

Polanyi, Karl (2001 [1944]): The Great Transformation: The political and economic origins of our time. Beacon, Boston

Schneider, Andreas (2012): Maturity model CSR – an explanation and demarcation of terms, in: Schneider Andreas / Schmidpeter, René (ed.): Corporate Social Responsibility. Responsible corporate management in theory and practice, Berlin / Heidelberg, pp. 17 – 38

Schneidewind, Uwe (2018): The Great Transformation: An Introduction to the Art of Social Change, Frankfurt aM

Thomas, David / Ely, Robin (1996): Making differences matter: A new paradigm for managing diversity. Harvard Business Review. 5, S. 79 – 90.

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