The number of Americans expecting corporate leaders to weigh in on social issues is surging.
We counsel CEOs leading companies who have been flummoxed by investors, customers and their own employees, demanding to know ‘where the company stands’ on immigration reform, gender-neutral public restrooms, destruction of historic monuments and other hot-button issues. Though the vast majority of corporate executives would rather not play into such emotionally charged games, they know retreat can be bad business.
Most consumers are willing to drive farther and pay more to shop at a store whose brand they perceive as socially responsible, according to a recent survey released by Aflac. But this impact goes beyond retail sales. Professional investors see socially responsible corporate behavior not as a ‘wasted’ spend of monies that could be devoted to paying higher dividends, but as a cultural marker.
The corporate world is not conveniently divided into companies that have values and companies that do not. The admonition to ‘do the right thing’ is inadequate. Educated people with generous hearts and good intentions can, and do, hold opposing values. Therefore, every statement of ‘where the company stands’ risks alienating some percentage of prospective customers, investors and employees. Helping our clients walk this ever-thinning tightrope will keep our corporate counselors occupied in this coming, contentious year.
Original article published in My PRSA Publications, January 5, 2018.