The Empathy Index: Measuring Corporate Empathy

Posted on 24th January 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I would like to direct your attention to the 2016 Global Empathy Index, the latest annual survey of corporate empathy compiled by Belinda Parmar and her colleagues at The Empathy Business in the United Kingdom. The index focuses on UK and US companies but is expanding its scope every year.

A Rigorous and Perceptive Examination of Company Behavior

I have followed Belinda Parmar and her work for several years and I continue to be impressed by the insight and scientific rigor that she and her colleagues are able to bring to this survey. In a recent article in Harvard Business Review discussing the 2016 results, Parmar explains the thinking behind the study: “The Empathy Index seeks to answer the question: Which companies are successfully creating empathetic cultures? These are the companies that retain the best people, create environments where diverse teams thrive, and ultimately reap the greatest financial rewards”.

One of the most fascinating things about this study is the methodology employed: how does one actually go about measuring a company’s empathy? It is a compelling intellectual challenge: most of us have the innate ability to sense and convey empathy at the personal level, but measuring such an abstract concept in a publicly traded company is another challenge altogether. Here is how Parmar explains their current approach:

“We break down empathy into categories: ethics, leadership, company culture, brand perception, and public messaging through social media. Our publicly available metrics including CEO approval ratings from staff, ratio of women on boards, and number of accounting infractions and scandals. This year we added a carbon metric. The financial information came from S&P Capital IQ, and the employee information from Glassdoor. We analyzed 2 million tweets from between September 27 and October 16 this year. An additional source of qualitative data expanded the survey: We used a panel selected from the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders. The leaders were asked to rate the companies’ morality.”

When you visit the Index you will find it easy to locate rankings of the most and least empathic companies according to the survey, and the Index is also searchable by brand or by sector. I consider it a valuable and original take on empathy and public trust, with implications for corporate communications, public relations, crisis management, corporate diversity, and even financial regulation. My own focus as a consultant and facilitator is on leadership and empathy at the ‘micro’ level – with individuals, teams, and corporate stakeholders – and the Empathy Index is a helpful reminder to consider public perceptions of corporate empathy as well. I hope you will find the Index as enlightening as I do.

Good luck, and until next time…