Pauline Giroux - CRS Manager, YBS Group
After first studying a module on green business, Pauline continued her CRS journey through Copenhagen, Paris, London and eventually into her current role at Yorkshire Building Society.
Read about how she applied her knowledge and skills in her various roles, and the advice she offers those interested in pursuing a CRS career.
Membership Level: Affiliate
Position: Corporate Responsibility Manager at YBS Group
Social Media: @PMulticulti
How did you get into CRS, and why?
I studied a module called ‘Greening Business’ as part of my Business Studies degree, which got me hooked on the topic of making businesses a force for good. I then decided to further my knowledge during my Masters by spending a year at Copenhagen Business School studying their Masters minor in the Sustainable Business School. I also completed a few placements whilst studying, including one in EDF’s sustainability team in Paris, which really opened my eyes about what kind of roles I could go into once I graduated. Following this experience, I was determined that CRS was the right career choice for me as it fitted with my values and my ambition to have job with an impactful purpose. I applied for many roles both in France and in the UK, before securing a trainee position in the CSR team of Societe Generale in London. I stayed there for nearly four years, before moving to my existing role at Yorkshire Building Society (YBS). CRS is such a varied and fast-evolving field that I feel like I am constantly learning and developing – I don’t see myself changing career anytime soon!
If you didn’t work in CRS, what would you do?
I’m a huge tea lover so I would love to be a professional ‘tea expert/sommelier’ – someone who travels across the world sourcing the best teas and works out how to combine them with great food. I also really enjoy writing so I’d probably blog about my travels and tea discoveries along the way.
Which professional project or achievement are you most proud of?
This year we launched YBS’s first CRS strategy, called Society Matters, and published our first annual Society Matters report. This was the culmination of nearly two years of work and was a huge milestone for us. The report is available here. We are very lucky to have had buy-in from our CEO and the Board right from the start and it is absolutely brilliant to see the impact Society Matters has already had on how we operate as a business – it is a key driver of improvement. I also learnt a huge amount along the way and I am continuing to do so as we develop and implement the strategy further, so on a personal level it has been highly valuable and enjoyable too.
If you could change one thing about CRS, what would it be?
I still think that in most companies we have a way to go to improve the way CRS is understood and perceived by other departments and senior management. Often CRS’s value is underestimated as it is seen as much more narrow in scope than it actually is or should be, e.g. community & environment only. This is in particular problematic as it reduces the central role that CRS should play in shaping a company’s long–term strategy.
At YBS we have managed to really change the perception of CRS which still a few years ago was “it’s all about ‘nice to do’ community initiatives”, by doing two things: 1) making all our community programmes much more strategically aligned with our business model and strategy and crucial contributors to colleague engagement and customer perception, 2) raising awareness and understanding of the scope of CRS, which goes beyond community programmes and is about how we behave as a company as a whole.
What do you think are the most important skills for working in CRS?
I always say that to work in CRS you need to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades! You often need to be strong at a range of quite diverse skills, including strategic thinking, analysis and reporting, verbal and written communication, partnership management, event organisation, project management, colleague engagement, horizon-scanning for CRS developments and best practice etc. To be highly effective in your role you also need to know your organisation really well so you can spot and address any CRS opportunities or risks as they arise, which relies on your ability to build a strong internal network and influence decision-making across the business and at every level of seniority.
It can be a highly demanding role and one which never feels ‘finished’, as there is always room for a company to improve and progress to become more ethical and sustainable. In order to manage this, I believe it is crucial to have a real passion for this field and drive to make a positive impact, whilst at the same time being highly practical about the challenges that are bound to arise and accept that change takes time. Celebrating every step in the right direction is even more important when the road to success is a never-ending one!
What advice would you give to others on getting into CRS?
It can be a slightly crowded job market as there aren’t many CRS roles in each company (compared to, let’s say, HR) and more and more people are interested in moving to this field. If you do not have a CRS background but think your skills are transferable, it is worth trying to get CRS experience internally. Try approaching your CRS department to see whether there are any secondment or shadowing opportunities – CRS teams are often very stretched and welcome support from other part of the business. It’s also worth building up your knowledge of CRS, using a platform like FutureLearn for instance which offer free online short courses, or even pursuing a more formal qualification. CRS is a complex field which does require specialist knowledge and a variety of skills depending on the remit of each role (e.g. carbon footprint calculations, partnership management, event organisation, internal & external communications, strategic thinking) so do not underestimate it as an ‘easy to move into’ field. I often get emails from colleagues internally who have no experience in CRS and believe they have all the knowledge/skills required to move into a CRS role, which to me shows that they haven’t yet grasped what such a role includes.
If you are starting up in your career and think CRS is for you, because it has become a very competitive field, I would try to get some qualifications if possible - this can range from an apprenticeship to a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. And then the most important thing is to get your foot in the door, so look at placements, internships and short term contracts if you have to in order to secure that first role. Once you have that first experience, it is much easier to keep developing and move into more permanent roles.
Another thing to consider is that most CRS roles and therefore professionals are London-based. Although there are less roles out of the capital it means that there is also a lot less competition for each role. If you are geographically flexible it is worth looking at all the great companies like YBS, which are based out of London.