A few months ago, my boss sent me to a business conference to learn technical stuff but mostly to network. If someone had told me years ago how much networking and ass-kissing the accounting profession actually involves, maybe I would have rethought my career path and become a statistician or something. The only thing I enjoy less than work itself is small talk. I hated putting on that conference name badge, getting into the elevator with somebody way friendlier than me, and having to talk about her life and times in the state of Tennessee. No, I’ve never been. No, I don’t attend mass. No, I don’t have any children. Yes, I’m a financial analyst. Yeah, the weather in Detroit sure is wonderful. No, I don’t care to exchange LinkedIn information because I find LinkedIn just as useless as in-person networking.
Try telling a tableful of potential contacts you’re from Detroit. You don't know how frustrating this is until you try it. All I get from people is “Oh, wow, I’m so sorry. Didn’t the city burn down? Are there even jobs in Detroit?”
One person even asked me, “So, have you ever been shot at on your drive to work? Do you carry concealed weapons, like a gun or something?” Are you kidding me right now? Although I can run like Halle Berry as Catwoman in a pair of stilettos, I’m an accountant, not a marine. I have a lot of shit in my car, but a Beretta isn’t one of those things. It's probably for the best I don't pack heat at conferences or I might have popped a cap in Miss Tennessee's ass after the second time she asked me about connecting on LinkedIn.
My favorite part of the conference, aside from the firm-branded water bottle, was the keynote speaker –- the one and only Mary Schapiro. I won’t lie. When her honor walked out on stage, I squealed. Like, legit squealed.
Figure 1: the squeal-inducing former chair of the SEC
I haven’t had such a strong reaction to a famous human being since I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers live on stage, and even that was the culmination of ten years of listening to the Wildflowers album on repeat. Sometimes I doubt that accounting is the right profession for me, and then I get to see a former SEC chairman for real in the same room, which in turn causes me to react like a sixteen year old fan girl. All I could think was, “ZOMFG. MARY SCHAPIRO AND I ARE BREATHING THE SAME AIR RIGHT NOW.”
Mary Schapiro spoke mainly about her new gig as vice chairman of the board of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), a non-profit organization that focuses on developing voluntary sustainability disclosures for public companies. The European Union recently signed an initiative forcing companies to report sustainability issues — environmental, HR-related, employee retention, all that good stuff — and although she’s not entirely sure the SEC will adopt and mandate the SASB’s guidance, Mary Schapiro believes the SASB’s guidance will help US companies to become more transparent. At least that's what she said.
What are the implications of sustainability disclosures for a retailer like, say, Walmart, which treats its employees as largely disposable? If forced to disclose this information, would Walmart wordsmith its disclosures without actually changing its practices? Would companies actually practice sustainability if investors looked at things beyond the bottom line like employee retention? Should the SEC require companies to disclose sustainability issues, or do the financial reporters and auditors have enough shit on their plates already?
Naturally, I’m inclined to believe every word out of Mary Schapiro’s mouth because ZOMG MARY SCHAPIRO, but I can’t help but be professionally skeptical of the SASB’s entire effort. Has anyone else heard the “sustainability” buzzword? Will this stuff actually be required for disclosure in a couple of years? Will it make a difference? Does anyone care?