In the past two years, a series of tragedies has put issues of social and political justice at the forefront of the national conversation.
The murder of George Floyd made headlines around the world. Then there was a spike in violence against Asian Americans fueled by unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. In the past year, mass shootings of people of color have occurred at a grocery store and an elementary school.
“Whether it’s war, child labor, mass shootings, police brutality or another issue, there are many social issues that occur on a daily basis that employees and consumers are concerned about which companies might take a public stand,” Hooria said. Jazaieri. , assistant professor of management at the Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business.
While some organizations have released statements addressing social issues, many are hesitant to do so. A recent report by The Conference Board research group in New York City showed that most companies have not taken a public stance on these issues.
Most organizations have remained silent on women’s reproductive rights: Only 10 percent of companies have made, or plan to make, a public statement on abortion access in light of the Supreme Court’s reversal. Roe vs. Wadefound the report.
Pros and cons of taking a public stand
Brian McComak is the founder and CEO of Hummingbird Humanity, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting firm in New York City. He encourages business leaders to consider taking a public stand on the issues organizations have on their minds.
“While I would suggest that it has always been important, leadership today requires humanity, empathy and vulnerability,” he said.
Some advantages of taking such a stance include:
- Employees expect it. Nearly 60 percent of employees believe CEOs should speak publicly about controversial political and social issues that concern them, according to the Edelman consultancy.
- consumers too. Previous Edelman research has shown that 53 percent of consumers believe every brand has a responsibility to get involved in at least one social issue that doesn’t directly impact their business.
- It could help in recruiting efforts.. Organizations can grow their talent pools to include potential values-driven employees, such as Gen Z workers and people of color, and gain customers to boot.
- Silence could be counterproductive. As Jazaieri explained, companies that do not take a public stance on social issues could risk assumptions being made about the reasons behind the company’s silence.
A 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that about 40 percent of HR professionals agree that taking clear public stances on social, political, and environmental issues can support recruitment and retention efforts. Employees of color were more likely to say they expected their company to take a public stance on these issues.
“When people believe they have shared values with the organization they work for or are consumers of it, it deepens the connection,” said Ella Washington, professor of practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
However, taking a public stand can lead to:
- Anger among some employees and stakeholders. Addressing 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 response. It’s also difficult to communicate the nuances of your message once the company picks one side of an issue.
- The “what about me?” phenomena. People who represent or support other social issues may expect your organization to also speak out on issues that matter to them. This can present the untenable challenge of trying to respond to all social problems.
“[Taking a public stance] it can be complex and it may or may not be feasible for certain companies to do this on a regular basis,” Jazaieri added.
Best practices when taking a public stand
Some of the best practices that companies should consider when making a statement about social or political issues include:
- Understand why you’re taking a stand. Getting clarity on your company’s intentions to take a public stand is an important first step. Related to this, what does your business expect to happen because of this public stance?
- Align the statement with your company values. There may be a public stance angle that is very “on brand” (i.e. consistent with the company’s mission and values) that could be a logical entry point for the company to take a public stance, Jazaeri said.
- Consider your stakeholders. Stay on top 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 public stances on social issues are enacted values, not just words that live on a website or in a flyer handed out at new employee orientation. Your company should be able to point to examples of how you support the position you claim to defend.
Washington explained that organizations need to realize that a public statement is not just about saying something. Once you take a public stand, you are also inviting accountability.
“If organizations don’t see their public posture as a commitment, they will ultimately be discredited by the value of their messages,” he said.