Jaimie Vargas seeks to make every employee at Electronic Arts an agent of social change. By making corporate social responsibility a collective effort, she creates transformational programs that shape the company culture at every level. In this episode, she covers:
Who should shape social impact priorities
How to create safe, inclusive spaces for everyone
Where employee resource groups fit into the equation
Jaimie Vargas is head of social impact at Electronic Arts, where she helps use the power of play to create positive change. A former social impact consultant and head of social impact of the Synopsys Foundation, Jaimie has spent more than a decade building employee engagement and corporate giving strategy.Connect with Jaimie Vargas
In the 1970s, avatars became part of the video game experience. For the first time, players could see themselves represented in the virtual world of the game.
Decades later, the rise of the internet brought a sense of community to gaming. People from all over the world could play together. Video games became a gathering place, a point of connection.
These days, the virtual experience blurs the lines between the digital and the physical self. Over time, the video games have made it easier and easier for players to bring more of themselves and their relationships into the virtual world. There's a parallel here for CSR professionals interested in employee engagement.
Although it's easy to think of employees and community members as distinct groups, they are not separate. Often, they're one and the same. So the question is, how do we as social impact professionals take the same trajectory? How can we leverage both technology and community to help employees bring their full selves to their work?
Welcome to Impact Studio.
I am Sam Caplan, vice president of Social Impact at Submittable. Over the course of my career, the companies I've seen be the most successful at threading together CSR and employee engagement are the ones who don't get caught up in drawing hard lines between employees, community members, and customers. Instead, they focus on collapsing borders.
Jaimie Vargas is head of global social impact at Electronic Arts. She's aiming to reframe how we think about CSR and employee engagement to make the experience more impactful for everyone.
Can you just tell me a little bit about what CSR looks like at Electronic Arts?
- Sure. Great. It's great to be here, Sam, and excited to connect with everybody listening in. So Electronic Arts, I love the mission, the purpose of the company. It's about inspiring the world to play. We're going to be a leader in interactive gaming.
And so when you think about how do we show up then from a social impact point of view, it's about using that power of play to create positive change in all of the spaces where we live, work, play, bringing that to the world of STEAM education, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, STEAM education. And thinking about how we create strong, healthy communities where everyone can thrive, where everyone has access and opportunity to play.
So using that notion, the company's purpose really helps us understand how we can authentically show up in the world of social impact and kind of contribute to the story of the company. And like many companies, we're drawing on a lot of levers of change. Of course, we're going to mobilize and activate our employees, our player community around the world, the products, the IP that we have are an incredibly unique asset that we can deploy.
Our financial heft, our philanthropic capital is a great place to create change. Where we sit in the ecosystem, using our platform as an incredible worldwide brand. There's a lot of power and responsibility and expectation that come with that, too.
So I think about it as we have an incredible set of assets available to us, tools in our toolbox, and how can we creatively and authentically put those tools into action to create positive change.
- It's really interesting, Jaimie. So like with all of these assets and communities that you mentioned, like who do you feel like should be responsible for setting or helping to set the priorities for a CSR program?
- Well, I'd like to say kind of half-joking but half-serious, everybody's on the social impact team. Social impact is a part of all of our jobs despite where we sit in our day-to-day functionality. But in reality, I mean, think strategy is really co-created. So it's really important, I think, for social impact strategy to reflect the business care-abouts and what's really driving your business. And that'll look and feel differently depending on your industry and where your space is. But that's really important.
And then there's the piece about what's happening outside the company, the community care-abouts, what are the needs depending on where you operate.
Regulators and policymakers play a role, too. But think of it as it's really that intersection point. It's not one or the other. Strategy really does need to reflect where you can show up in the world and make a positive difference, what's unique and special to you as a company, and what matters is how you're going to return value to your business.
That intersection, that's really the sweet spot I think where CSR and social impact can really shine, being a function that maybe doesn't generate. It's not a cost center, it's like a pride center, and it sits often kind of at the heart of crisscrossing functions, and really has a lot of dependencies across a company. So it's really inherent, I think, that the approach and the point of view necessarily reflect a broad set of stakeholder views in and out of the company to guide and shape that strategy.
- Are you seeing this like intersection between employee resource groups or ERGs and the social impact efforts of companies?
- Absolutely. For sure, employee resource groups are important influential stakeholder to guide and shape think what social impact work looks like, whether it be a grant-making initiative, an activation, co-creating an experience where employees are getting plugged in to something happening outside the company or with a nonprofit partner in the community.
For sure, because the passion, the ideas that employee resource groups are bringing to create a space that represents how employees want to show up in a company, it's the same kind of thinking I think that can be applied to how the company wants to show up in the community at large and create a safe, inclusive place where everyone has opportunity, can thrive, feels enabled and empowered in all the ways they want to show up in their lives in the community.
So think it's a very similar point of view when ERGs are thinking about their work and how they're mobilizing and creating spaces for employees to gather, to connect, to learn, to grow, and develop. You could take that and apply it in the same vein to what we're doing outside the company and in the community at large. So feel like there's a lot to learn from employee resource groups.
And healthy pressure points, too. Companies can't show up in every single way that employees demand.
It's just not possible to show up for all the issues that are out there. And it may not be the right way, frankly, for a company to show up in every issue. But it is important to listen and learn as we talked about earlier.
And employee voices vis a vis employee resource groups or affinity groups are important vehicles for that kind of listening and learning. So hugely important stakeholder.
- Hi, I'm Keriann, chief marketing officer at Submittable. The cycle of listening and learning that Jaimie talks about is such an essential component of employee engagement. As she mentions, that feedback loop needs to be built and maintained very intentionally. We're so excited to bring you to this episode of Impact Studio. Our goal is to keep creating space for conversations like these.
If you're looking for more ways to give employees a sense of agency in your CSR efforts, we'd love to talk to you more about how our software could support your work. Please reach out to our team at submittable.com. Now, back to the episode.
- Are you discovering like in your work that employees can span that chasm that often exists between executives at a corporation and the communities where their customers live?
- I think people who work in the social impact space are often kind of connectors, bridge-builders inside a company, connecting dots across business units and functions, and maybe overarching corporate strategy to how that strategy gets executed. We're also bridge-builders outside of the company in the community. And one of the best ways that we can make that relationship building happening is through our employees, the extensions of the social impact team as it were.
People are very generous. Employees, they have passions, they have things that they're really excited about. And so they want to use their time, their talent, their financial heft, their voice to advocate and create change and invest in the things that they care about. And so when the company creates programs and opportunities and experiences to help employees do that, everything's better.
We're able to deliver more, better, and more positive outcomes for the community. And employees, I think, feel really connected and enabled and empowered as part of that process.
And I think it's an important way of taking those kind of big vision aspects of a company and making them real. And when employees choose to get involved and feel like this is a place I want to show up and take part in because to be fair, they're making a choice. It's voluntary. It shouldn't be voluntold. And so they're choosing to spend their time and effort and resources in that way, it's an important proof point of making corporate commitments and vision statements and care-abouts real in a very demonstrable way. That sort of has this cyclical effect.
It is a way of returning value to the business because employees then feel more connected. They feel a sense of purpose.
It's a way of, when you say to an employee, we want you to bring your best self to work and show up authentically in the way that you are. This is a way of actually making those kinds of statements real, and giving employees an important outlet to put their passion and their actions into practice that is both beneficial to the communities that we're seeking to serve and support and returning value to the business.
So I see how we engage employees is right in that intersection of where social impact can be so powerful when it lives there, when we think about employees being engaged and involved, and when we're investing in the community. Something I think a lot about is that shift from while I think it's useful to create kind of this menu of opportunities approach, particularly with employees because they have different care-abouts, they have different time constraints, they have different ways they want to engage and get involved. So if you want to meet people where they are, especially now in this dynamic, ever-changing environment that we're all living in, never now more and more important.
It is important--
I'd like to think about, too, about how do we shift though from these kind of transactional surface level kinds of experiences to something that is more transformational.
People need an entry point, for sure, whether that's a volunteer experience or a giving campaign or somehow getting plugged into their workplace giving program.
They need an entry point. But ideally, if we're helping people move to something that is more transformational, that may be doing fewer things but in a deeper high quality way.
It may be doing less one-off type engagements and pursuing opportunities where we make a sustained commitment over time. And that's the type of volunteering. And getting back to what shows up on that PowerPoint slide, they may be different bullets that show up there because the quality and the transformational nature of the engagement doesn't always show up in a participation rate or a countable number of activities or dollars donated. Doesn't always reflect the transformational moment.
And I think if we think about employee as employees as being kind of co-creators, builders, designers with social impact teams into how these programs take shape and how they're executed and implemented, we want to build the capacity of employees to step up and want to engage in a deeper perhaps more meaningful way.
And so we have to be willing to take some risks, try some things out and pilot and test that may not work, and be willing to accept that there may be fewer line items on the spreadsheet but the end result may be more transformational and actually move the needle further in that larger outcome of what we want to achieve in the community.
So programs where I see that working well or companies that do that well, I think, have a healthy mix and a willingness to engage in entry level transactional work and also try to shift people into what looks and feels transformational for that company or in that community.
SAM CAPLAN: As the gaming world continues to let players bring themselves and their relationships into the virtual world, the space becomes more authentic. And authenticity tends to build on itself. The more you enable people to bring their complexity as full humans into a space, the more engaged they become. And the experience itself becomes richer and more valuable to them.
In CSR, it's the same as we create strategy and launch new programs, let's do so with that authenticity in mind. And let's continue to find ways to invite more people into the experience. Thanks for tuning in.
Submittable is a social impact platform that powers your community investment, employee engagement, and grantmaking programs. If you want to learn more about how we can help you and your team do more good, reach out today.Get in Touch