Business grad pursuing her passion for positive change

Published 22 April 2022
A woman stands in an office space

The pandemic was not all bad. Some of us loved working from home, some took up hobbies we would never have considered (sourdough starter anyone?), and some of us began to question what was really important in life.

Challenged by supply chain disruptions, lockdowns and staffing shortages, many businesses were also forced to reflect on their priorities. For Southern Cross business graduate Deborah Guion, that meant a long, hard look at corporate social responsibility (CSR). “It’s becoming a major point of difference for business. If you’re a company in Australia and you’re not thinking about sustainability or reconciliation all the time, you are way behind your competitors,” she said.

The pandemic may have accelerated the movement, but Deb, now Head of Social Impact at national workplace supplier Winc, has been working in the field of CSR for more than a decade. “When I started it was quite niche, but now I am seeing a lot of roles advertised in this space. 

“It’s also become part of our regulatory framework. If a company is trading on the Australian stock exchange they have to prepare an ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) report every year. That means setting really clear targets around your impact on the environment, not to mention packaging and waste, which is a big one for us.”

CSR or corporate social responsibility is now much more broadly known as ESG or environmental social governance and I think it's changed over the last few years. We are living in a climate crisis and I think the pandemic has really highlighted social inequities and people expect more.

My name is Deb Guion and I'm the head of social impact at Winc. Winc is a workplace support company so we provide everything a workplace needs to work whether that's paper or ppe or technology and I am responsible for driving our ESG outcomes. We've increased our participation of first nations people in our business from 0.5 to 3.3 today and we're really driving our sustainability outcomes, particularly around packaging that's been a really big piece for our business.

I didn't take a traditional path to university. I was 30 when I started at university and I started with a bridging course when I lived in London and SCU at the time was really a forerunner in providing distance education and it was really a great experience for me to be able to be on the other side of the world working with people who were on campus on group projects and really still feeling a part of the Australian university community.

Studying business has really been the backbone of my career because I've been able to transfer what I learnt into the corporate space and then use my knowledge to help businesses understand where their areas of impact may lie and how to achieve that while working within the structure of a business.

Majoring in convention and event management, Deb began her degree online from Sweden, continuing to study online when she returned to Australia. “It’s a fantastic way to study, you have to be super organised with your time and motivated but it meant I could also work full-time while I studied. I knew a business degree would allow me to do multiple different things, it’s really the backbone to working in any corporate organisation.”

After graduation, the skills Deb learnt in her degree transferred easily to a variety of other roles in not-for-profit organisations where she pursued her interest in positive change. “I really wanted to make an impact on the world, and when I was approached to manage a CSR program for a corporation, it just made sense to me,” she said. “Even though I had been managing events, it was all about project management, dealing with people and I just ran with it.”

A job with OneSight (the charity arm of OPSM and Sunglass Hut) followed, and saw Deb manage eye care programs in Far North Queensland for Indigenous communities, where she saw firsthand the positive impact corporate funding can have. 

“There were a lot of school kids that had eye issues. One kid in particular had been diagnosed with a number of behavioural and health issues, but no one had checked his vision. It turned out he was so short-sighted he couldn’t even see the whiteboard. That eye check really changed the trajectory of his life,” she said.

Now Deb heads up a major program at workplace supply corporation Winc, developing the company’s sustainability agenda and also working with First Nations employees to develop their careers and pathway through the organisation with a reconciliation plan now in place for many years.

“My degree gave me the start I needed and the base from which I can pursue my interest in the CSR field. As I go along in my career it’s really clear attention to sustainability and reconciliation creates a competitive advantage. Our customers expect it, and as a company it makes a difference to both our people and our commercial outcomes.”

Media contact: Media and Content, content@scu.edu.au