5 Considerations You Should Take Before Declaring a Company Stand on Politics or Social Change
Gone are the old days when companies were expected to keep a neutral silence on politics and social issues. Now, brands both big and small are taking a stand, just like Dick’s Sporting Goods did when it joined the movement to ban assault weapons after a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Even so, many entrepreneurs and business managers fear that engaging in political and social action will inevitably offend someone. The U.S. appears to be an increasingly divided nation. Sometimes it feels like respectful, civil discourse between two people who disagree (or even agree!) on issues is simply no longer possible.
The reality is, of course, more nuanced. So how do you decide whether and to what extent you or your company should engage in social and political activism? Start by examining the issue through the lens of the five following considerations.
1. Realize taking a stand doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of customers.
It’s just not true that taking a political or social stand will cause definite harm to your business. In fact, the opposite may be true.
The founder of London communications agency Kin&Co, Rosie Warin, joined with others to create We are Europe to advocate for the benefits to the U.K. to stay in the European Union. Although people cautioned her the effort would cost Kin&Co both clients and employees, the opposite actually occurred.
That shouldn’t be surprising. People are actually more likely to do business with companies that echo and model their own personal values. That’s especially true with younger generations. According to Nielsen, about 70 percent of all millennial and Gen Z consumers say they’ll happily pay more for products or services when the brand involved stands up for social and environmental justice.
2. Understand the reputational, ethical and legal consequences of political activism.
No matter what your role, there can be blowback for political speech and action, and it’s important to know what those consequences might be before you decide to get involved.
If you’re the business owner, your business will be judged by your actions. What you do inevitably reflects on your company, and vice versa, so it’s important to make sure you’re comfortable with that fact.
If you’re not the owner, you need to find out whether your job might be in jeopardy due to political involvement. I’ve known a few startup founders who claimed to have negative opinions of certain employees because of those employees’ political/social views. Some states may prohibit firing or disciplinary action prompted by political speech or beliefs, while others don’t. It’s important to look carefully at the laws in your specific state.
Other legal restrictions may govern the extent or permissibility for political activities. For example, employers may be restricted by section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act from interacting with workers on the basis of their political beliefs, activities and affiliations.
3. Reevaluate your corporate values.
Corporate values are really at the heart of this issue. If your support for various social matters aligns with the company’s values, then you’re simply putting those values into action. Anyone who becomes offended by that might not be in your target audience to begin with, so there’s no real loss there.
It’s important for your activism or political involvement to be tightly aligned with both your values and the company’s values. If there’s any gap there, consumers may perceive your political or social participation as a deceptive ploy to simply get them to buy from your brand, which can turn them off permanently. So make sure the steps you’re contemplating taking to further some social or political issue support your values.
4. Examine opportunities for taking action very carefully.
Once you’ve decided to become more active in social and political issues, do your research before jumping in with both feet.
It’s especially prudent to know who you’re partnering with and do some due diligence. After all, anyone can proclaim themselves a charitable organization. If you’re not sure that you’re being given enough access to feel comfortable about working with another group, trust your instincts and find another way to get involved.
Reputations are often tarnished by association, unfortunately. That’s why it’s almost always preferable to choose established organizations to partner with, whenever possible. Use online tools or platforms like Reward Volunteers, Bright Funds and Political Activism Meetups to locate positive opportunities for your involvement.
5. Look for ways other than active protest to get involved.
“Politically active” translates to “marching in protests” for many folks, but there are other ways you can get involved.
For example, Apple, Google, Facebook and 94 other companies all filed a joint brief to oppose the current administration’s travel ban last year on the basis of a perceived common interest in attracting the best possible talent for technical companies.
Direct action in support of your cause can often do even more good, since it shows your company “walking the talk” instead of simply shouting a slogan or donating money. Look for community service actions that you and your workers can support, such as trash pick-up days along highways and in parks, or Habitat for Humanity work days.