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Rice University research looks into corporate responsibility for compassion

Can corporations be compassionate? Rice University researchers are figuring that out. Pexels

Since the early 2000s, the business of doing business has changed its looks markedly. As corporations gain power and reach, many in the public are subjecting them to increasingly insistent questions about their impact on the lives of workers, the environment and society at large.

At the same time, academics have focused more attention on compassion in management and business organizations. Today, considerable research parses the way corporate conduct affects employees, laid-off workers and the well-being of society as a whole. A considerable segment of this academic literature advocates for what once seemed like an oxymoron: compassion in corporate management.

Most of the recent research on compassion focuses on individuals and the group. Most management research, meanwhile, centers on economic performance and efficiency. In an editorial for Journal of Management, though, Rice Business Mary Gibbs Jones Professor Emeritus of Management Jennifer George argues that compassion research can actually be a jumping-off point for focus on social problems, well-being and identifying the conditions under which organizations do the least harm.

But what is compassion in business, exactly? According to George, it's the practice of setting up organizations so that they respond to the vulnerable groups in their orbit. To do this, George says, companies should reconsider the concept of "American Corporate Capitalism (ACC)," which operates when corporations, workers and consumers pursue self-interest. ACC follows the laws of supply and demand, and is founded on the bedrock principles of respect for private property, an emphasis on economic growth and using profits as the measuring stick for making business decision.

Make no mistake, George adds: "ACC is an ideology." A host of institutions provide the underpinnings that allow ACC to flourish, among them the legal system, governmental agencies, stock markets, media and advertising and trade organizations.

But, notes George, the rewards from American Corporate Capitalism are narrowing sharply. ACC, she contends, now concentrates benefits upon fewer and fewer people. One article she cites suggests that outsized CEO salaries and compensation, coupled with large income inequality within a company, may result in organizations that do harm to their workers.

In fact, "the tenets of ACC seem to downplay the importance of compassionate organizing," says George. Harm done by corporations, such as laying off employees, may occur unintentionally, but those decisions still cause suffering. ACC, she says, "has the potential to create conditions under which compassion is much less likely to occur."

As a result, it's crucial to closely examine the tensions and contradictions between ACC and compassion. A focus on compassion would "identify the conditions under which organizations inflict the least harm and alleviate the most suffering," George writes.

She proposes a wide-ranging agenda to achieve this. First, researchers should look at organizational decision-making to track the influence of ACC values and whether criteria such as dominance or hierarchy override harmony and egalitarianism. Identifying the factors that spur organizations to favor only shareholders and customers over employees and neighboring communities could offer insights for management. Other research, George suggests, ought to examine a range of companies operating in the same sector, tracing which cause more damage and which are more successful at reducing suffering.

Finally, George says, academics should develop case studies of organizations that successfully pursue policies such as employing the disabled – policies designed to promote the well-being of vulnerable groups inside and outside the company.

Because corporations wield such vast influence, the harm they do can reach wide swaths of the population. It's time, George writes, for researchers to examine the disconnects between prevailing corporate culture and compassion. Effectively done, she says, such research could vault over the ivory battlements into the heart of everyday life.

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This story originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom in 2019.

Based on research from Jennifer M. George, the Mary Gibbs Jones Professor Emeritus of Management in Organizational Behavior at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

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Register for some of these informative online events happening throughout the month of March. Photo via Getty Images

March marks a full year of attending online events — from Zoom panels to virtual conferences. But, the shows must go on with another month full of online innovation and startup events that Houston innovators need to know about.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — from workshops and webinars to summits and pitch parties. Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

March 1-5 — CERAWeek by IHSMarkit

In lieu of the week-long, in-person mega-conference that is the annual CERAWeek by IHSMarkit, the 2021 iteration will be completely virtual. Need some ideas of what panels and talks not to miss? Click here for five recommendations of what to attend.

The conference takes place Monday, March 1, to Friday, March 5. Click here to register.

March 2 — Houston Innovates: Digital transformation and Innovation in Oil & Gas

Digital forces are changing the skills an executive needs to manage organizations. In a world that's become increasingly digital, energy companies can sometimes find it hard to adapt. Join General Assembly Houston for a panel discussion with:

  • Sameer Khan, digital leader (MarTech and Transformation) at ExxonMobil
  • Sarah Vega, vice president of IT & Change at SmartestEnergy
  • Ricky Burns, business transformation team lead at BP
  • Jose Beceiro, senior director of Global Energy 2.0 at the Greater Houston Partnership

The event is on Tuesday, March 2, at 9:30 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

March 2 — Ladies Who LaUNCH #13: The Female Superpower

In 2020, 40 percent of US businesses were owned by women and generated $1.8 trillion. With these numbers in mind, it comes as no surprise that the presence of women in entrepreneurship and investing is growing.

Why do women-led companies financially outperform their male counterparts? And what are the "female superpowers" behind our ability to excel in these fields? Join featured speaker, Megan Bent, as she explores the research, data, and her own experience in the importance of female leadership in entrepreneurship and investing, and how to leverage your differences to your advantage.

The event is on Tuesday, March 2, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

March 3 — What's Next in Crypto?

Baker Botts and TeamBlockchain are hosting a webinar discussing trends in cryptocurrency. Key speakers from the sector include:

  • Ali Dhanani, partner at Baker Botts
  • Sarah Beaumont, associate at Baker Botts
  • Jonny Fry, co-founder & CEO at TeamBlockchain Ltd
  • Spencer Randall, principal & co-founder at CryptoEQ
  • Ankush Jain, chief investment officer at Aaro Capital

The event is on Wednesday, March 3, at 11 am. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

March 9 — Investing in Medical Devices

Join the Texas HALO Fund for a conversation with three of the fund's portfolio companies: Adient Medical, Allotrope Medical, and PathEx.

The event is on Tuesday, March 9, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

March 10 — Open Project Night: Achieving Gender Equality in Houston and Beyond

Impact Hub Houston is bringing you a monthly opportunity to come together to work on solutions for some of Houston's most pressing issues. Our city is full of changemakers across all ages, cultures, skillsets, and industries. This is your chance to conned and collaborate for the greater good.

The event is on Wednesday, March 10, at 5 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

March 10 — Conversations with Latinx Entrepreneurs in Houston

Latinx entrepreneurs are starting small businesses faster than the rest of the startup population and becoming a bigger part of the total U.S. market every day. Join General Assembly for a panel of Houston Latinx leaders as they share stories about their heritage, failures and success.

The event is on Wednesday, March 10, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

March 11 — How to Sell Without Being "Salesy"

In celebration of Women's History Month, Catherine Brown and Leela Madan, both serial entrepreneurs and founders of Houston-based Founder's Compass offer their advice on selling your business.

The event is on Thursday, March 11, at 10 am. It's $30 and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

March 11 — Inspire Seminar with Leslie Wise

Join Enventure for a talk and Q&A with the president and principal consultant of Evidence Matters, Leslie Wise. Inspire is one part of Lilie's three-program career exploration series. The goal of Inspire is to share an individual's career journey so that trainees can see one of the many paths that can be taken, learn about the reality of working in these fields, and gain valuable advice from key leaders to better prepare themselves for their own career journey.

The event is on Thursday, March 11, at noon. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

March 16-20 — SXSW

Another conference is pivoting to virtual attendance this year. SXSW has flipped the switch to being online only for 2021. SXSW's seven conference themes are A New Urgency; Challenging Tech's Path Forward; Cultural Resilience in the Arts; The Rebirth of Business; Transforming the Entertainment Landscape; Connection in Disconnection; and An Uncharted Future. Stay tuned to InnovationMap for a Houston innovator's guide to the conference.

The conference takes place Tuesday, March 16, to Saturday, March 20. Click here to register.

March 17 — Top Legal Considerations for Startups

Join Rice University's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for a session with corporate and securities lawyer Aaron Barker, who specializes in advising companies from formation to exit, will give you the inside knowledge to help you launch your venture, and possibly save you from making a rookie mistake.

The event is on Wednesday, March 17, at 4 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

March 24 — Houston Startup Showcase

The Houston Startup Showcase is a flagship event from The Ion, formerly known as Demo Day. This event will allow for developing companies to receive feedback from subject matter experts and showcase their successes thus far. The event is a year-long series of monthly pitch competitions, and results in a final winner to close the series in November. Companies are encouraged to apply online to pitch.

The event is on Wednesday, March 24, at 6 pm. It's free and can be accessed online. Click here to register.

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