In The Age of Trump, Corporate Silence is Suicide


In case you’ve been living under a rock, or hiding under your bed, the current political climate is presenting tough challenges for company leaders. Despite the reservations that many may have about wading into political discussions, CEOs are feeling compelled to speak out to assert their company’s values.

Leaders at Silicon Valley giants and at other corporate conglomerates have been outspoken about their opposition to the President’s executive order on immigration, for starters. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Nike CEO Mark Parker and Apple’s Tim Cook are just a few who blasted the ban as un-American. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz pledged to hire 10,000 refugees in the countries in which the chain operates, and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky offered to house refugees for free.

But many other leaders who may not be making national headlines are taking a stand in their own ways. Tom and Toby Bozzuto, CEO and Co-Founder of real estate services organization The Bozzuto Group, a Causecast client, recently released a statement to remind customers and employees that Bozzuto is committed to a policy of inclusion and non-discrimination. “Our firm represents a wide diversity of thought, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation,” they wrote. “We do not discriminate, we never have and we never will. We believe that is what America stands for. We know that is what The Bozzuto Group stands for.”

John Fallon, CEO of education publishing giant Pearson, another Causecast client, released his own statement on LinkedIn which specifically responded to the executive order on immigration. “At this uncertain time, it is also important to state, unambiguously, how important the values of diversity, freedom and opportunity for all are to Pearson and the education communities we work with in America, and globally,” Fallon wrote. “In particular, one of the virtues of America’s great colleges and universities is that they attract students from around the world, regardless of nationality or religion. Pearson has never taken partisan political positions, and we respect the rights of governments around the world to determine their own laws, but for all of us who care about the American education system, the implications of this particular policy are deeply worrying.” Fallon went on to express the company’s support of refugees and pointed to Pearson’s work with Save the Children to help refugees continue learning.

As more CEOs across corporate sectors have spoken out, and as companies have taken stands through everything from campaigns to Super Bowl ads, other leaders staying on the sidelines have faced the inherent dilemma. 1) Speak out and face potential retribution from customers who disagree - like the ones now boycotting Starbucks as a reaction to Schultz’s pledge to hire refugees instead of U.S. citizens. Or 2) stay silent and face possible wrath from a fired up sector of the public...including some (likely many) employees or prospects, especially Millennials.

We saw how Uber CEO Travis Kalanick got caught in this whipsaw, with opposition to his role on the President’s business advisory team and to Uber’s perceived crossing of the taxi strike picket lines at JFK airport. Fair criticism or not, the #DeleteUber campaign was born. Rival Lyft saw an opportunity and issued a statement under the title Defending Our Values. “We created Lyft to be a model for the type of community we want our world to be: diverse, inclusive, and safe,” the statement by Lyft’s co-founders read. “We stand firmly against these actions and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.” They went on to pledge their commitment to donate $1M to the ACLU over the course of four years; the public responded with a torrent of app downloads for Lyft.

Was this a fair meting out of justice for a company that had in fact expressed its opposition to the travel ban from the start? Probably not, but it demonstrates the swirling emotion that threatens to overtake any organization perceived to be shirking its moral obligation to protect its employees and customers at this seismic historical moment.

Business managers will need to think long and hard about how they can and should respond to fast-moving events in Washington in ways that assert and preserve their values, credibility and authority. It isn’t customary for company leaders to loudly speak out about political events, but these aren’t ordinary times. Staying silent in the face of events that alarm people of all political beliefs has its own costs that leaders will need to consider.

For business leaders and employees, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the national sense of uncertainty and chaos. Clear communication has never been more important, to calm the waters amongst all stakeholders and tamp down anxieties. This messaging doesn’t have to be politically-oriented as much as values-oriented, especially to the extent that those values are  expressed through a company’s actions around giving back.

Unless companies choose to be politically active, I don’t think there should be a political litmus test for corporate social responsibility. Every company has so much to gain by engaging its employees in philanthropy, and the political views of management shouldn’t have to be brought to the fore if leaders would rather keep that perspective to themselves. Within every business, employees are at the heart of an organization’s true potential as a changemaker, and employees vote in all kinds of ways.

But before action comes trust, and when values such as diversity and inclusion seem to be under threat, CEOs may find that they need to reassure worried employees and concerned customers. Clarifying values from the top is a helpful way to steady the ship amidst these stormy times, and better yet is when CEOs are speaking on behalf of companies that have demonstrated they honor the humanity of the people they employ and serve.  

As companies have increasingly stepped up to their potential to play an active role in global change, the opportunities for shared value have blossomed exponentially. Now more than ever, companies have the chance to fundamentally address the greatest challenges the country and world face, and no company can do this alone. Engaging employees around your company’s values is one way to strengthen your company’s perceived and actual integrity, and partnerships with other companies, nonprofits, and the public sector serve to bridge divides and offer a path to work together for the common good.

So now let us walk our talk.

Causecast stands for a more united world that embraces and protects our shared humanity. When some of us are in peril - from war, natural disasters and manmade injustices alike - we are all eventually affected. Causecast champions international social collaboration because we  know that we can’t hide from the world; our collective global fates are intertwined.  

Towards that end, Causecast has long supported the International Medical Corps, a humanitarian disaster relief organization that provides life-saving health care and health related emergency services - often within hours - to people in urgent need anywhere, anytime, no matter what the conditions. International Medical Corps acts as first responders, offering direct assistance and then training locals to be their own best first responders. From Sudan to Lebanon, Nepal to Liberia, Yemen to the Philippines, the stories of how International Medical Corps steps in to help the most vulnerable amongst us are inspiring.

We have written about International Medical Corps numerous times over the past few years. “Do Companies Have an Obligation to Help Syrian Refugees?” we asked, pointing to how International Medical Corps has offered unflagging support for the humanitarian crisis of this population. We have encouraged companies to support International Medical Corps as part of International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, an event that promotes collaboration at local, national and international levels. We have called attention to companies like Causecast-client Optimizely that have engaged employees in kitting events for International Medical Corps, assembling hygiene kits that are then distributed to refugees around the world. We have even pointed to kitting events as an ideal way for companies to engage employees in volunteering right at the office.

As our government turns away from immigrants and refugees, Causecast is doubling down on its support of organizations like International Medical Corps that are helping these individuals. That’s why we’re promoting our campaign for International Medical Corps’ life-saving work with Syrian refugees to all Causecast clients, and also encouraging non-clients to rally behind this important organization. International Medical Corps has been operating inside Syria since 2007, providing assistance to Iraqi refugees and vulnerable Syrian communities. Their Syria Crisis Timeline explains International Medical Corps' role in Syria since the onset of war in 2011.

Ryan Scott