We hope this message finds you staying safe and sane.
On August 19, 2019, the Business Round Table (BRT) released their heralded statement redefining the purpose of a corporation. The biggest businesses agreed to prioritize stakeholders—community and planet—alongside shareholders. At the time, a Fortune magazine survey found that 64% of Americans said a company’s primary purpose should be making the world a better place. A slew of organizations branded themselves as B-corporations in an effort to woo customers, retain staff, and measure a triple bottom line (people, profits, planet).
And the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer confirmed that the BRT statement was in alignment with both public opinion and employee sentiment.
- 76% of general public respondents believed, “CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it in social issue areas such as equal pay, prejudice and discrimination, the environment, and truth in media”.
- 71% of employees agreed, “it is critically important for my CEO to respond to challenging times such as political events, national crises or employee driven issues”.
And, within their workplace, the study found that employees want to work for a company with a purpose; they want their CEO/boss to allow them to engage on issues AND to speak out on diversity, sustainability or other key social issues. They want to be part of a movement. And these opportunities enhance their trust in their employer.
Then comes a global pandemic, a rising wave of protests in the face of racial injustice, and challenges to our democracy from within.
So, how are companies doing in their efforts to advance communities? What is the progress since the August 2019 statement?
Just Capital, in collaboration with The Harris Poll, found that 72% of Americans “trust companies more than the Federal government to help find solutions to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial equality movement.”
- BRT signatories significantly outperform their peers in the Russell 1000 Index in their COVID19 Corporate response, on all six issues examined.
- BRT Chairman, and Walmart CEO, Doug McMillon, announced the creation of a Special Committee tasked with advancing racial equity and 64% of the BRT signatories released their own statements in support of action to end racial injustice, with public expectations that corporations deliver a series of policies that will make workplaces more diverse, equitable and inclusive.
Anecdotally, we see examples of businesses and their leaders responding to the very real issues of hunger, disparities in access to online education, and disenfranchisement as evidence of action—a $100 Million gift from Jeff Bezos to Feeding America, a commitment from EY to bridge the digital divide, and a pledge by Starbucks’ to ensure their employees are registered to vote.
So, we can confirm that we live in a time of CORPORATE COURAGE.
“The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena.”—Tim Cook, CEO, Apple
Given this backdrop, let’s move from characterizing this courage as merely “corporate social responsibility”. Let’s acknowledge the deep personal satisfaction and the joy that business leaders and their employees can derive from rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work to change social conditions. Let’s talk about the opportunity that leading on social change represents to improve employee engagement, create civic engagement, and mobilize public support.
We know these businesses need changemakers on the ground as their partners in affecting social change and in delivering on promises to prioritize community stakeholders.
Let’s talk and hatch a plan together.