To Improve ESG Outcomes, Companies Must Ask the Right Questions: Q&A With Stephanie Dolmat, Senior Director, ESG, Robert Half

By Robert Half on March 3, 2022 at 4:30pm

Welcome to the latest post in Robert Half’s Thought Leader Q&A series, which features insights from those who have made our company a great place to work and a premier provider of talent solutions.

In this post, we feature Stephanie Dolmat, senior director, environmental, social and governance (ESG), at Robert Half. Stephanie joined the company in August 2021 after nearly five years in ESG and sustainability at Adobe. She’s been a sustainability leader in business for more than a decade, and is a graduate of Yale University, where she earned a B.A. in political science, and UC Santa Barbara, where she earned a master’s degree in Environmental Science & Management.

Stephanie describes her role as Robert Half’s senior director for ESG:“I collaborate across the company in all the ways Robert Half shows up as a responsible business. That includes how we’re fostering diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) with our employees, in our supply chain, and with our clients; how we’re being responsible environmental stewards; and how we treat people through all our company interactions, including keeping in mind their fundamental human rights.”

Senior director for ESG is a vital role at Robert Half, where corporate responsibility is a high priority. But Stephanie is more than up for the challenge. “I absolutely love what I do, working with people internally and externally to show we’re leading with values across the business,” she says. “It’s a complex job that is never boring, I assure you!”

Here’s what else Stephanie had to say during our interview, including what set her on the path to a career in ESG, what general trends she’s seeing with ESG in the business world, and what massive sea creature she hopes to see in the wild one day:

What inspired you to become a sustainability leader?

It started when I was quite young, I believe. My mom was a huge lover of nature, and she taught me the names of flowers, trees and birds — all kinds of things in nature.

I didn’t realize how much of an impact that education had on me until later in life, when I was visiting my younger brother at college. He was in his senior year at the University of Vermont, earning a degree in environmental studies. I went with him to a few of his classes, where he was learning about sustainability and how it connects to business.

It was just a jaw-dropping experience for me. I said, “You can do this as a career?” I was hooked.

What did you do next?

After that light bulb moment, my brother encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree in sustainability. I ended up attending the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I earned a master’s degree in climate and energy and corporate environmental management.

It was such a fantastic experience. The program delved into all the ways that sustainability shows up at the intersection of policy, communications and science. It was a challenging and interdisciplinary program, and it fed my interest in helping corporations on the environmental side.

In fact, I worked for many years on the operational sustainability side — focusing on renewable energy, energy and water efficiency, and collaborating with people to inspire behavioral change. Eventually, I got into the wider world of ESG, which is really about how all those issues intersect. How are you coordinating and collaborating across the business to enact change? So, operational sustainability and ESG are related — they build on each other.

Out of curiosity, what did your brother end up doing after college?

My brother, Scott Franklin, was an organic farmer for about a decade, and he now works for the American Farmland Trust, which is a nonprofit organization that conserves farmland across the United States. He’s running a really cool project right now, helping to establish a local source of rye in Kentucky for distilleries and breweries. It’s good for the soil, good for farmers and good for businesses to have a local source of rye instead of importing it from abroad.

Would you say that the pandemic has motivated companies to focus more on ESG?

I would say that the pandemic, along with ongoing climate change and social justice movements in the United States and globally, have all helped to accelerate some of the shifts that were already happening in many organizations around ESG.

There’s also been a big push from investors in recent years to understand what the ESG risks are for the companies they’re investing in. These risks aren’t always captured in traditional accounting or even traditional financial disclosures.

And, of course, many employees today want to work for responsible and purpose-driven companies — and they want to see that brands are doing what they’ve promised to do around ESG.

How do you think businesses are doing, generally, to improve their focus on ESG?

Overall, there’s been good progress in developing base programs for ESG — setting up policies and initiatives. But companies really need to look at what the outcomes of those efforts are. Tracking and measuring progress is a huge challenge, though, and it’s hard to keep up with — as is staying on top of ESG issues, generally, because it’s such a dynamic space.

That said, I’m not sure that companies are always asking the right questions about their ESG outcomes. There’s a heavy compliance focus we need to move beyond: “Do we have a sustainability policy? Yes, or no?” Businesses need to ask deeper questions, such as, “Do we have a comprehensive plan to reduce our emissions and do our part to contribute to climate action?”

I think that companies also should look beyond the numbers to understand how they’re developing a more diverse talent pipeline, to ensure that their workforce is diverse and to ensure that their workforce is a reflection of our population.

What makes an ESG program successful?

ESG is a highly collaborative endeavor in a company. Having a governance structure in place to support that collaboration is key, and it helps if it flows from the top down — from the board of directors to the C-suite and then down through the organization.

Also, it’s important to understand how the many different areas of ESG intersect, and how the health of each of those aspects impacts where the organization is on the ESG maturity scale.

What type of education or work experience would you recommend to someone who’d like to have an ESG leadership role?

Well, first of all, nobody is going to be an expert across each of the areas of Environmental, Social and Governance. We see a lot of people coming into the space with different types of professional and educational backgrounds — but with related or complementary expertise and experience. For example, maybe someone has been focused primarily on human resources issues in their career, and then they also have an environmental sustainability background that they can bring to the table.

The general trend I’m seeing is that companies want to hire people for ESG leadership roles who have the ability to help the organization integrate ESG into the business strategy and influence change across the company. Obviously, there are many different ways to gain those skills. So, I would say that someone starting out would want to focus on growing their expertise in a specific topic area, like DEI or environmental sustainability, and then expand outward.

I would add, by the way, that you don’t have to have ESG or sustainability in your title to influence positive change in a company. ESG is about collaboration, and every employee has a role to play in helping their organization operate with integrity. Every person’s job can touch on some aspect of ESG, whether or not they realize it.

Since your love of the natural world helped inspire your ESG career path, you no doubt enjoy spending a lot of time outside. What are some of your favorite activities?

I love spending time outside in the winter. I used to be a ski instructor, and I really enjoyed teaching kids! It’s so great to see the joy on their faces when they’re gliding along on the snow.

I also love biking, and I like to bike locally and go on bike trips, because it’s one of my favorite ways to do errands, stay healthy, and see places. Before the pandemic, I took a bike trip across Thailand and Laos. It was an amazing and eye-opening experience.

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?

One of my dreams is to see a whale shark — the world’s largest shark — in the wild. So, anywhere I could see one of those would be ideal!

Follow Stephanie Dolmat on LinkedIn.

Meet other Thought Leaders at Robert Half, such as Ryan M. Sutton and Megan Slabinksi. And be sure to subscribe to the Robert Half newsletter for future installments of our Q&A series and to discover more unique stories, experiences and perspectives on the latest hiring trends.

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