Welcome to FNEI Insights, a blog series where FNEI interviews thought leaders about issues informing sustainable and socially responsible business practices in a variety of industries. This month, we talked to Stephanie Childs, Vice President of Global Government Relations at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, about the advantages of digital lobbying during the pandemic and how lobbying for good should be at the heart of government affairs.
With brands like Huggies, Kleenex, and Cottonelle, providing people with everyday essentials has always been Kimberly-Clark’s mission. In the wake of a global pandemic, one of the company’s core values — ensuring customers have access to core products — has become even more paramount.
“There’s a heightened need for some of our products,” said Stephanie Childs, Kimberly-Clark’s Vice President of Global Government Relations. “And that puts us in a unique position to be of service at this time.”
With the economic downturn created by the COVID-19 crisis, families not only struggle to buy groceries, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies but also deal with the lack of enough diapers to help keep a baby or toddler clean, dry, and healthy.
“Huggies is a founding sponsor of the National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit that provides diapers for families in need. We are hoping that Congress will include funding in the next COVID-19 relief package that will help us expand the network to additional underserved communities,” Stephanie said, noting that her team has been holding virtual meetings with staffers to get support for the proposal.
The Pros and Cons of Virtual Lobbying
Lobbying online “has been surprisingly efficient because you really have people’s full attention. As opposed to when Hill staffers are in the office. There are a million things going on, your boss is coming in and out, there are votes happening, and an endless flow of people waiting for meetings,” she said. “In a way, it’s a little bit more focused now.”
However, like any good government relations professional, she misses the in-person, live exchanges with her peers and colleagues.
“You have to have strong interpersonal skills in government relations. A lot of people get into this because they like people. So it will be good to get back to seeing everyone in person,” she added. “But I think we’ve made it work. One of the lessons of the pandemic is it’s shown just how incredibly flexible, agile, and amazingly adaptable people really are.”
The Road Ahead
Will this adaptability carry over to how Congress members work together under a new administration with a Democratic president and a Republican-controlled Senate?
“I think the number one thing you’re going to hear from any corporate executive is they’re looking forward to certainty, stability, predictability, in terms of the public policy process,” Stephanie said. “There’s been a lot of turnover and turmoil recently because of the election, with all the politicking. People are looking forward to getting past the election cycle and focusing on the policy issues. And first and foremost, how do we move forward from the COVID-19 crisis? In terms of what the next administration will focus on, I think that’s agenda item number one, two, and three.”
Lobbying for Good
The pandemic has also forced companies to take a critical look at how they use their platform for the greater good of society.
“After the events of this past summer and the focus on social justice, my hope is that lobbying for good will be a core part of every government affairs program,” she said. “It’s an imperative — it’s not a nice-to-have anymore. Everybody has their defensive issues, people don’t want their taxes raised, or maybe there’s a regulatory issue that would hinder their ability to grow share. But I think it’s important to say not just what are we against but to ask the question, ‘what are we for?’”
Diversity and Inclusion at the Forefront
In addition to addressing external pressures, companies also need to identify structural inequities as well, Stephanie said, something in which C-suite leaders can play an important role.
“Having a diverse workforce has been shown to yield better business results … if you want to be a top-performing company, you need to get a variety of perspectives so you can make the best decisions,” she added. “As one of the few corporate government relations leaders who is a black female, it’s something I feel passionate about. I want to bring more people of color into the government affairs profession. We still have a lot of work to do to achieve something resembling racial equity.”
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