What CEOs Can Talk About when Activated

August 06, 2017

What CEOs Can Talk About when Activated

In our survey on CEO activism this year, we were curious as to which topics Americans thought appropriate for CEOs to talk about. Not every topic is ripe for CEO activism. The findings were interesting and track with what is most probably on people’s minds.

Overall Americans are most likely to say CEOs and business leaders should talk about job and skills training (70%), equal pay (67%), healthcare coverage (62%) and maternity or paternity leave (61%). These subjects are all clearly business-related, and as we saw in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, job security is paramount to many. Jobs is the number one topic for most Americans.

Americans are more divided on gender equality, with 48% saying leaders should publicly address this issue, while other issues — those that are arguably politically charged — are not deemed by the average American as public-platform issues: race relations (37%), climate change (34%), immigration (32%), LGBT rights (29%), gun control (26%) and refugees (26%).

It may be harder for executives to make a business case for expressing opinions on these topics but this is not to say that companies are shying away from contentious issues. We have seen in our analyses of other issues that have arisen such as the immigration ban, the government’s climate change withdrawal and the recent ban on transgender individuals in the military that not all Fortune 500 CEOs are wallflowers. When it came to the immigration ban order initiated by President Trump last January, we saw 31% of Fortune 500 CEOs making public statements. The figure was somewhat higher when CEOs spoke up about the administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change agreement – 40% had something to say publicly about this policy. When we looked at brands who withdrew advertising from The O’Reilly Factor due to allegations made about the host, we saw a substantial one–third (35%) of brands listed in or owned by companies listed in the 2016 Forbes Global 2000 in that group.

As we continue to track CEO activism, we will be able to more clearly measure whether Americans believe that some hotly debated issues are more acceptable or not and whether that changes over time. As the saying goes, we live in interesting times. But not only are they interesting but creative times when it comes to the evolution of chief executive expectations.


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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

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 corporate and CEO reputations.

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