November 16, 2022
Managing Partner, Edward Jones
President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
According to a recent Gallup survey, 88% of Americans said businesses should make the world a better place. Successful businesses help their communities thrive — but it takes strong, empathetic leadership and willingness to address difficult challenges.
During the 2022 Business Solves Corporate Citizenship Conference and Awards, Carolyn Cawley, President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, spoke with Penny Pennington, Managing Partner at Edward Jones, about the importance of community involvement for businesses.
There Is a Gap Between High-Income and Low-Income Community Members Regarding Trust in Business
According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, business is the most trusted institution today — even when compared to government, media, and NGOs.
“At the very beginning of the pandemic … government was the most trusted institution,” said Pennington. “In the middle of 2020 or so, it shifted to business … because consumers were seeing companies who were helping them shift the way they were living their lives and getting goods, and workers were seeing their employers take care of them.”
However, Pennington pointed out the gap between high-income people and lower-income people in regard to their trust in business.
“I think fundamentally it's because folks with lower incomes are looking for those jobs,” she said. “They're looking to be skilled and reskilled. They're looking for places they can go and have a meaningful livelihood to help support their families and their communities. And people look to business to do that.”
“Businesses have the tools — we have the incentives, we have the resources,” she continued. “We have all the incentives that are about growth and innovation, but also in the environment that we're in today, [we have the] demand that we understand better how to skill and reskill our workforces for the future.”
To Help Communities, Businesses Must First Understand Their Unique Challenges and Needs
Pennington explained that while she focused on giving back to her community, she didn’t realize the extent of the issues that were happening around her — and learning required vulnerability and willingness to have difficult conversations.
“There were very personal steps about what I read, who I talked to, what I learned about our community in St. Louis, and what I learned more broadly about the community of people at Edward Jones,” she said.
Pennington explained that before the pandemic, Edward Jones initiated a program called Courageous Conversations that brought together a few dozen people to discuss important topics like race. At first, there was discomfort and hesitancy around having these conversations, but doing so felt like an organic and necessary step.
“Then the pandemic hit, and it was like a light switch turned on, and dozens of people, then hundreds of people, and now thousands of people want to have those courageous conversations,” she said.
“For us, these are facilitated conversations,” she explained. “We have two or three or four a month. They're hybrid, they’re on Zoom screens, and we approach things that we would not have thought we'd approach five years ago.”
“The empathy that's built for the people who work at Edward Jones then enables us to be more empathetic for the clients that we serve, who are themselves becoming more purpose-driven,” Pennington continued. “Their needs are becoming more complex. We've gotta be skilled in having that conversation with them, hearing from them what they believe, why they believe, about their future, and then our commercial success is based on helping them build a life plan to do that.”
From the Series