Over the past two years, a series of tragedies has brought social justice issues and politics to the forefront of the national conversation.
The murder of George Floyd has made headlines around the world. Then there was an increase in violence against Asian Americans, fueled by baseless conspiracy theories. Over the past year, mass shootings have taken place against people of color at a grocery store and an elementary school.
“Whether it’s war, child labor, mass shootings, police brutality, or some other issue, there are many social issues that occur daily that employees and consumers care about and which companies could take a public position on,” said Hooria Jazaieri. , assistant professor of management at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.
While some organizations have issued statements on social issues, many are reluctant to do so. A recent report by The Conference Board research group in New York showed that most companies have not taken a public position on these topics.
Organizations have remained mostly silent on women’s reproductive rights: only 10% of companies have made, or plan to make, a public statement on access to abortion in light of the reversal of the the Supreme Court. Roe vs. Wadeaccording to the report.
Advantages and disadvantages of taking a public position
Brian McComak is the founder and CEO of Hummingbird Humanity, a diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm in New York City. It encourages business leaders to consider taking a public stance on issues of significant concern to organizations.
“While I would say that has always been important, leadership today requires humanity, empathy and vulnerability,” he said.
Some advantages of adopting such a position include:
- Employees are waiting. According to consultancy Edelman, nearly 60% of employees believe CEOs should speak out publicly on controversial political and social issues that matter to them.
- Consumers too. Previous research from Edelman showed that 53% of consumers believe every brand has a responsibility to engage with at least one social issue that doesn’t directly impact their business.
- It could help in recruitment efforts. Organizations can increase their talent pools to include potential values-driven employees, such as Gen Z workers and people of color, and win more customers.
- The silence could turn against you. As Jazaieri explained, companies that don’t take a public position on social issues risk making assumptions about the reasons for the company’s silence.
A 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that around 40% of HR professionals agree that taking clear public positions on social, political and environmental issues can support recruitment and retention efforts. Employees of color were more likely to say they expect their company to take a public stance on these issues.
“When people believe they share values with the organization they work for or are its consumers, it deepens the connection,” said Ella Washington, professor of practice at the University of Washington’s McDonough School of Business. Georgetown.
However, taking a public stance can lead to:
- Anger of some employees and stakeholders. Raising public issues can also cause those who disagree or want to remain silent on the issue to have an unfavorable view of the organization.
- Assumptions made about your organization. Your company could quickly be labeled too “liberal” or “conservative” based on your answer. It’s also difficult to communicate the nuance of your message once the company has picked one side of an issue.
- The “and me?” phenomena. People who represent or support other social issues can expect their organization to also speak out about the issues that concern them. This can present the daunting challenge of trying to address every social problem.
“[Taking a public stance] can be complex and it may or may not be feasible for some companies to do this on a regular basis,” Jazaieri added.
Best practices when taking a public position
Here are some best practices for companies to consider when making a statement on social or political issues:
- Understand why you are taking a stand. The first important step is to clarify your company’s intentions when it comes to making a public statement. Along the same lines, what does your company hope will happen because of this public position?
- Align the statement with your company values. There may be an angle regarding the public stance that is very “on brand” (i.e. in line with the company’s mission and values) that could be a logical entry point for the company is taking a public stance, Jazaieri said.
- Consider your stakeholders. Keep track of what internal and external stakeholders want or believe regarding social issues. When taking a public position, the company should use language that is consistent with the company’s values and mission without alienating important stakeholders.
- Know that actions speak loudly. Make sure that public positions on social issues are promulgated values, not just words that live on a website or on a flyer handed out during new employee orientation. Your company should be able to cite examples of how it supports the position it claims to stand for.
Washington explained that organizations need to realize that a public statement is not just about pretending. Once you take a public stand, you also invite accountability.
“If organizations don’t see their public stance as a commitment, they risk long-term discredit for the value of their messages,” she said.