Photo of Scott Hoesman

In today’s dynamic political climate, we have many opportunities to share our opinions on issues, from commenting on and sharing articles on Facebook to engaging in light debates over dinner with friends. But for major organizations and their leaders, taking a position is a much more complex and delicate matter.

While many choose to stay silent for fear of alienating a segment of their consumer base, today’s socially active and engaged world is eliminating that option.

Driven by values-focused millennials, consumers and employees have a greater expectation of the companies they buy from and work for to take a stance on issues in the public domain—especially when they have to do with race, gender, and human rights.

This month, we celebrate LGBTQ Pride. It’s another opportunity to take a minute to ask yourself:

  • How did your organization respond when issues came up in the past?
  • Did it do enough?
  • How should it respond when they come up in the future?

Rewind to 2013 when a boycott against Barilla, a popular Italian food brand, brought to light the Chairman’s anti-gay sentiments. During a time when more and more companies were including images of LGBTQ families in their advertising, he stated he “would never do an advertisement with a homosexual family… if the gays don’t like it they can go eat another brand.” In response to the public uproar, he soon apologized and vowed “to learn about the lively debate concerning the evolution of the family.” And he made substantial changes to his organization. Shortly after his apology, he appointed a diversity officer. In 2014, Barilla released Italy’s first LGBTQ-friendly commercial, and received a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign Equality Index, earning the title “diversity trailblazer” in media reports. This showed swift action to redirect a company’s values and beliefs in a positive D&I direction, even if the initial issue arose from within the company.

On the flip side, some companies err in choosing to not take action. An interesting example of this was after President Donald Trump issued “the Muslim ban,” blocking citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from visiting the United States for 90 days. While dozens of companies such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Lyft publicly renounced the ban, offered guidance to their employees, pulled ads from media outlets that supported the ban, and made donations to the ACLU, others were notably silent. Oracle was one of the few big tech companies not to speak out on the executive order (CEO Safra Catz has a position in the Trump transition team and was being considered for an administration post). In response, hundreds of employees signed a petition asking Oracle to add its name to an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit against the order, and many simply resigned. Especially in the liberal-leaning world that is Silicon Valley, silence speaks (and spoke) volumes.

Regardless of where you personally stand on the issues, and how keen you are to engage with the public, it is important that organizationally you have a consistent approach to responding. If and how you respond is a powerful demonstration of your values—both internally to employees and partners and externally on your brand in the market.

Ask yourself some key questions to determine the best course for your unique environment:

  • What’s right for your culture, your business, and your leaders?
  • What can you say or do that is in line with your company’s values?
  • How engaged is your company in public discourse generally?

Whether your organization is vocal and engaged or more conservative and strategic, answering these questions is the first step in determining how to be responsive in a way that is authentic and supportive of your brand.

As D&I experts, we have partnered with many companies to help them not just respond, but also determine the best response framework for dealing with such matters—internally and externally—when they arise. This includes determining how and when to engage the right players, assessing how situations have been handled in the past, and developing approaches to ensure that responses, once made, are socialized and sustainable. Our Response and Responsibility Continuum™ helps measure “attitudinal DNA” so that organizations understand where they are in the spectrum of possible approaches to public issues.

Takeaway

More and more, companies are going to feel pressure to share their positions. Rather than shying away, each issue is an opportunity for your organization to live out its values and connect with employees and customers. Having the right decision-making framework in place will help you and your company communicate responses efficiently and confidently, and perhaps allow your values to bring people together, even in times of divisiveness.