CSR and Sustainability are rewarding fields to enter, and most professionals are motivated by their values rather than desire for monetary rewards. However, sustainability professionals do want to be compensated fairly. Because sustainability continues to evolve and is a relatively new field, neither hiring managers nor job seekers know exactly what appropriate compensation is.
A few studies have been published in this area: Boston College’s 2010 Profile of the Profession includes a gender comparison of CSR salaries, and Greenbiz published a comprehensive Salary Survey earlier this year.
Here’s the skinny. Below I shed some light on what sustainability professionals should be expecting in compensation based on several factors.
What is the Truth?
I’m hoping to help hiring managers and employees benchmark what is fair. The source of this information is the hundreds of sustainability professionals I have interviewed during my searches. In the course of the recruitment process, these professionals disclose their salary.
While the information is anecdotal, I have observed consistency across so many candidates that I am confident that the salary information I share here is valid. As such, this article has useful information for both employers and employees.
Salaries Vary at the Surface; Dig Deeper for Enlightenment
Overall, salaries vary. The salary range that I have observed for sustainability professionals ranges from $48,000 to $500,000. Not too helpful.
However, this wide range narrows when one adjusts for key factors. After taking these into account, the salaries become much more consistent and predictable.
The key factors are:
- The employer (size, sector, industry)
- Job title
- Number of years post-graduation
- Number of years professional experience plus education
- Location (For example, NYC and San Francisco are among the most expensive cities and, therefore, one often finds higher salaries)
- Reporting relationship (number of direct reports and proximity in reporting relationship to CEO)
- The overall package (benefits, bonus, vacation, etc.)
In fact, when I take these factors into consideration, CSR salaries become so consistent that I am able to guess a candidate’s salary with amazing precision.
What, exactly, are the salaries?
Two of the most important factors are level of the position and experience. Clearly, these are also interrelated. Let’s take a look:
Heads of Sustainability / CSR: Based on my conversations with more than 30 Director-level CSR candidates, $150,000 is the average (mean) income for Director-level CSR positions. Most commonly, Director-level salaries fall in the range of $120K-$130K. A Vice President-level leader earns about $220,000. These positions can easily reach in the $300-$350K range for base salary.
Recent MBA graduates: Those with less work-related experience, such as recent MBA graduates, can expect to earn $100,000 plus or minus $20,000 for a CSR position.
The assumption that sustainability professionals earn less than other comparable positions is false if you hold all the factors listed above constant. I call this the ceteris paribus assumption, the Latin term for “all things being equal.” If you are a hiring manager wondering what salary to offer your new CSR hire, you don’t have to look far; rather, look at who this hire’s ” “near” colleagues will be.
A CSR professional is likely to earn a similar salary to those working in the same department for which sustainability falls. In other words, if the CSR Director sits within Public Affairs, their salary will be similar to their parallel level colleagues in Public Affairs.
To test the ceteris paribus assumption, let’s visit Salary.com. Note that while Salary.com publishes salary information for such seemingly obscure titles as “Child Life Specialist,” a keyword search for “sustainability” and “responsibility” return nothing at all. Salary.com estimates that a Director of Marketing based in San Francisco with an MBA will earn $147,000. This supports my finding, as discussed above, that other marketing salaries compare evenly with sustainability salaries.
CSR Salaries Don’t Always Measure Up
Still, despite the desire to be fair, CSR salaries are not all together fair. They fall short in three areas:
- Comparing to CSR professionals who fit in departments
Transferability: Lack of internal upward mobility
Once the CSR professional gets her foot in the door and lands a job, eventually they will be concerned about their own career advancement. What comes next for a CSR Manager? Is it a CSR Director? Is there availability in your company for that role? Because the CSR department within any company tends to be relatively small, the employee has fewer options for professional advancement internally. Her non-CSR co-workers have greater flexibility and internal mobility options over time.
My experience leads me to conclude that CSR employees are more committed to sustainability than they are to their employer. This leaves the employee with fewer options with their company. They have fewer options to move within the company to other departments and are more likely to move to another employer. Taking that one step further to salaries, an employee with less room for advancement and mobility has equally fewer opportunities for salary increases that would accompany a promotion.
Comparisons to other departments within the same company
We have seen that a CSR professional’s salary is in line with that of other staff in the same department as CSR sits. But, CSR departments across companies are all over the org chart. Sometimes they fall under Supply Chain, sometimes Human Resources (HR), sometimes Public Affairs. This is where CSR salaries can fall short. For example, careers in human resources are notorious for low compensation. If a CSR position is based in the HR function, then it will likely fall short compared to a CSR department housed in another company’s legal department.
Start-Ups: Lack of resources
Where salaries clearly fall short is within start-up situations or amongst fledgling small businesses. The unfortunate reality is that some socially responsible businesses pay their hard-working staff unfair wages. Truth be told, the candidate does not have a lot of negotiating power. One would hope that the socially-responsible employer would compensate their employees fairly, but this is not always the case.
How Do the CSR Salaries at Your Company Measure Up?
Do they fall on the low end? This isn’t necessarily a negative. Low salaries can be good for the employee. A low salary increases the employee’s flexibility and security. She becomes more adept at changing jobs. Potential employers find it attractive when a candidate takes on a lot of responsibility with a relatively low salary. Also, in the time of layoffs, her job is more secure.
Do they fall on the high end? If so, appreciate the significance your company puts on sustainability.
What Can You Do?
A good first step would be for all involved to be more transparent about salaries, just as the CSR field strives to be more transparent overall. As a hiring manager, benchmark other companies. As an employee, agree to share your salary with someone in a comparable role at a comparable company if they agree to do the same.
Finally, consider the position in light of the factors identified above. A better understanding of these salaries will make both employees and employers feel they are being compensated fairly.