CEOs don’t always feel the need to weigh in on society’s most controversial topics, on subject areas that are not directly connected to their organization’s products or services. After all, does it really make sense to voice an opinion that might alienate customers? If the company is aiming to attract younger employees, the answer appears to be yes. A new report from global public relations firm Weber-Shandwick and KRC Research surveyed Americans on their feelings about CEO activism, and the results show that the much-talked-about Millennial generation wants CEOs to take a public stance on worldwide issues. Fifty-six percent of Millennials believe that CEOs and business leaders should engage on hotly debated current issues. That number outpaced their older peers: 36 percent of Generation X respondents and 35 percent of Baby Boomers indicated a preference for CEO activism.
“If you’re really looking to recruit the next generation,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist for Weber-Shandwick, “you need to know they’re expecting you to speak up on some of these issues.”
There is no shortage of issues, either. Climate change, bathroom bills, health-care legislation, immigration, and more — today’s loud social-media news cycle has fueled the discussion around many potentially sensitive topics. Gaines-Ross said that CEOs will need to choose which issues are most important to them in order to establish an authentic voice. “It is understood that CEOs have to carefully balance many constituencies, but they will find themselves increasingly in the spotlight as they try to make a difference in a world that requires them to stand up and be counted,” Gaines-Ross said in a statement on the findings. “This new strain of CEO activism requires leaders to articulate their positions in a straightforward, unambiguous, and meaningful way in order to be fully understood.”
Bringing That Message to Life On Site
CEOs can do more than speak out. They can also leverage business events to highlight how their activism efforts impact their businesses and the world around them. For example, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, has been an outspoken voice in the movement toward pay equality, and Benioff used his keynote address at Dreamforce — the company’s massive annual gathering in San Francisco — to shine the spotlight on the challenge. Click here to read more about how Dreamforce delivered a platform for the topic including a track dedicated specifically to equality.
Has your CEO taken a vocal stance on any pressing issues impacting the world? What have you done to deliver that message to the environment at your organization’s meetings and events? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts.