Should your CEO be an activist?

What say you, Mr. Cook?
What say you, Mr. Cook?
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Tim Cook has an opinion on LGBT rights. Mark Zuckerberg has an opinion on immigration. Stewart Butterfield has an opinion on prison reform. But they’re not politicians. They’re CEOs of technology companies. Do they really have to let their political beliefs be known?

If you ask their employees, the answer is yes.

A new study from public relations firm Weber Shandwick found that 81% of tech professionals think their CEO has a responsibility to speak up about issues that are important to society. In an age where Patagonia is suing the US president and Dick’s Sporting Goods is taking a stand on gun control, it seems that CEO activism is the new normal.

But this study contrasts with a previous Weber Shandwick survey which found that only 39% of consumers think CEOs have a responsibility to speak out. Perhaps conscious consumerism applies to the values of a company overall but not to the individual opinions of its leader.

As for employees, they’re more likely to feel that executives should voice their opinions on issues that impact the workplace—like equal pay, professional development, and data protection—than on other social issues, like gun control, abortion, and climate change. On those topics, workers have less of an expectation that leaders take a stand.

But on the whole, employees want to see their CEOs signaling their values and acting as public advocates on issues that affect society. Whereas expressing a political beliefs might have once seemed like a risk that could turn off potential customers, now it seems like an essential element for attracting and retaining talent.