Social workers are well aware of the seeming contradiction of pursuing corporate work. Capitalist structures create the inequality in access to resources and opportunities most social work strives to combat. But when on the job hunt, social workers should be aware that there are opportunities to work toward social good from within the private sector.
While not as straightforwardly in line with battling oppressive structures as many public and nonprofit positions, corporate roles do offer social workers the opportunity to help those in need — often with greater financial means to instigate large-scale change. Relevant positions include those that require strong interpersonal skills or the ability to offer social and community support.
Corporate outreach positions, for example, work to channel company money back into surrounding communities. Some large companies offer roles focused on ensuring protection and equal opportunity to marginalized employee populations within a corporation. Employee assistance and change management roles also require fitting skill sets, with social workers able to manage transitions, address interpersonal conflict or provide mental health support.
While hiring committees can see social work applicants as out-of-box options for certain corporate roles, candidates can stress the way their unique background serves as an asset. Those applying to HR roles, for example, can emphasize training in human behavior and fostering respectful communication. Those vying for corporate outreach positions can discuss their abilities to construct culturally sensitive programs that will target specific needs of a community.
A graphic from the DSW@USC, the online Doctor of Social Work program at the University of Southern California instructs candidates on how to apply a social work background to corporate roles. It suggests highlighting skills in initiating conflict resolution, facilitating discussions with those holding opposing viewpoints, organizing large populations toward common goals and helping employees find personal investment in corporate missions.
Mirna Beltran is a graduate of the DSW@USC program who applied her social work skills to a corporate setting. She works for Pan American Bank on a program that equips residents of a predominantly Latino community in East Los Angeles with financial literacy skills. “I didn’t imagine I would have a job at a bank after graduation,” Beltran said. “I’ve always wanted to work with high school-aged youth promoting secondary education, pushing them to go to college. Even though I’m working in a different capacity, I’m still informing students of their options.”
Despite any reluctance in hiring, companies ultimately benefit from having employees trained in social work contributing to overall company practices. With extensive training in power structures, emotions, inclusivity and cultural sensitivity, social workers can influence internal and external corporate ethics from within a business.
On the internal side, they can shape corporate practices that don’t inadvertently discriminate against employees. Externally, they can ensure mission statements don’t disregard or disrespect the interests of marginalized communities and that advertising campaigns don’t offend or alienate a consumer base.
While it may feel counterintuitive, social workers pursuing corporate careers can potentially transform the way companies interact with communities. They can prevent the initial enactment of potentially harmful policies that they would traditionally work to undo.
If you’re a recent social work graduate considering work in the corporate sphere, there are resources to guide you during your job search. You can find more information from the Association for Community Organization and Social Administration, National Association of Social Workers and USC Career and Professional Development Center.
At its core, social work is about doing work that values human emotion, dignity, opportunity and access to resources above the blind pursuit of financial gain. Social workers who delve into the private sector can work to protect employee rights within company organizations and direct privately raised funds toward the underserved communities that need it most.