Companies are getting political because it’s good for business

It’s a good time for companies to take a stand.
It’s a good time for companies to take a stand.
Image: AP Photo/Aaron Favila
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In June 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would no longer be a part of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. While there was a list of notable CEOs who remained silent, there were no shortage of companies who quickly used the decision as an opportunity to declare a stance.

25 companies took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and New York Post to express the reasons behind their disapproval. Some companies took their environmental advocacy efforts even further—and far more creatively. On November 11th, for instance, a microbrewery called Brew Dog announced its release of a new beer called Make Earth Great Again as “a call to arms for action against climate change.”

On everything from climate change to immigration, this past year we’ve witnessed executives across industries take important stances on issues they would have never addressed in the past. Whether led by employees raising their collective voices or as a result of external pressure from consumers, the reason that businesses are engaging in social issues is clear: It’s good for their businesses.

Society is beginning to hold corporate America to a higher standard than ever before. According to one survey, 63% of US Citizens hope that companies will drive social and environmental impact, and 86% expect businesses to do more than maximize shareholder value through profit. Consumers, too, are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on values. Whenever possible, 87% will purchase a product from a company that has taken a stance on an issue they care about.

The way that professionals choose where to work has also changed. We have entered into a new era, one in which employees are expecting to—and should be expected to—bring their whole selves to work. Our work lives and our personal lives are more blended than ever, and with that comes a shifting expectation that our place of work is a reflection of our own values.

According to a recent survey, 82% of US Fortune 1000 employees want to work for a company with a CEO who is vocal about social issues. Over half of surveyed employees said they would be more likely to consider working for their company long-term if their CEO made an effort to engage in important social issues.

For many leaders this can be daunting, however CEOs have a responsibility to use the platform and power they’ve been given to influence change. Here’s how to start: First, be prepared to address the issue most relevant to your business model. If you have an extensive supply chain, that may be human rights. If you have a workforce affected by current politics, it may be immigration. If you collect a significant amount of customer data, it may be cybersecurity.

Even more, be prepared to walk the talk when it comes to stated cultural values. Tesla recently embodied their mission when they sent hundreds of batteries to Puerto Rico in an effort to restore much needed electricity to the island after Hurricane Maria. In response to Brexit, the cosmetics company Lush took its reputation as an ethical company even further by updating its mission statement with, “We believe that all people should enjoy freedom of movement across the world.” Just about half of the company’s factory workers in England are EU migrants, and the company is fighting for them, going so far as to make sure none of them lose their jobs because of Brexit.

As we continue to witness this shift in culture across corporate America, the pressure for leaders to take a stance will only continue to intensify. The companies that have done the hard work of identifying their values and developing proactive strategies to demonstrate them will be prepared to engage the best and the brightest talent.

Nikita T. Mitchell is the founder of Above the Bottom Line.