Finding the Words — CEO Activism

July 09, 2016

Finding the Words — CEO Activism

Our research on CEO activism came out a few weeks ago. It was covered in this article in the Washington Post by Jena McGregor. Then came this week’s horrific news of shootings in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas which upended our lives and sense of security. In response, a few CEOs spoke out (Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Marc Benioff) and McGregor penned another article that is worth reading if you are interested in the phenomenon of CEO activism –“Gun brutality emboldens CEOs to speak out about race.”

McGregor spoke with Tom Andrews of SYPartners who responded to McGregor’s question about why fewer CEOs have spoken up in response to the escalating racial tensions brought on by this week’s events compared to the events surrounding anti-LGBT laws in several states over the past 18 months or so. Andrews said: “We have a language for the LGBT community — there’s been such a movement around creating that language you can trace right back to the [gay rights advocacy group] Human Rights Campaign. A lot of CEOs feel so awkward about race diversity and how to address it. They can’t go there. They don’t have a language for it.” I thought this was an interesting perspective and very likely true. However, as I thought about it more, one or two of the tech CEOs who did speak up this week in reaction to the shootings of individuals and the police quoted Martin Luther King Jr. or U.S. Representative of Georgia John Lewis.  So perhaps there already are words to use if we just look hard enough?

In our guidelines for contemplating CEO activism, we recommended that CEOs who do speak up on hot-button social issues need to be prepared for the next flare up.  Once a CEO takes a stand on behalf of his or her company, employees will expect them to show up on a more public stage when human rights are being violated or other contentious issues are in the public eye.

I do expect to see CEO activism to catch fire in the months ahead. We will be watching closely.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross
lesliegainesross@gmail.com

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.

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