Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, well known for taking a stand on controversial issues such as, veteran rights, subjugating political gridlock and similar intractable debates, recently found himself in tricky terrains for asking his baristas to write the phrase “Race Together,” seeking to promote discussion about race issues with customers. Contrary to popular belief, this is the kind of CEO activism that needs to be supported in order to advance corporate involvement in institutional, systematic issues. The corporate world needs more and more CEOs who are brave enough to push progressivism by wearing their heart on the sleeve. We need a broader ground, encouraging this kind of thing, and at the same time define its demarcation line.
The CEO activist is on the top of a list of high-ranking corporate leaders, which includes Google’s Eric Schmidt, Apple’s Tim Cook, Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. These illustrious men and women are taking it up their sleeves to take a stand on hot, debatable social and environmental issues, ranging from gender equality, gay marriage to climate change.
Although some of these leaders are lauded for speaking out, the new wave of activism has also elicited criticism. While, they are concerned that corporate leaders have too much influence on our political system, while others are concerned that these kind of activism leaders of radical arguments on issues such as diversity and gun-control. The point is, these critics are missing a holistic standpoint. CEO activism needs to be celebrated, whether we agree with the sentiments or not, is a different chapter that needs to be brought up some other time. Historically, corporate involvement stemmed from personal, favorable gains that would basically benefit the bottom line, and this is exactly why the new wave of activism that seeks support on economic and social issues needs to be braced.
CEO activism is generally met with varied response, depending on how their employees, the media, customers responds to. Regardless of the public response, we need to start seeing this kind of activism as a new wave against the largely hidden shady corporate involvement in policies that have drained nations and political systems of its very psyche.
Side by side, we also need to keep in mind that unrestrained CEO activism has the potential to cause damage, particularly to employees if they’re compelled to endorseit. The thing about activism is that it is limited by the very fact that it relies on partly media coverage, and partly public opinion to be effective. Regardless, we need stern policies that bar CEOs from requiring their employees into promoting a particular social or political view, especially if it’s something much more controversial. Promoting causes or stances on an issue needs to be a voluntary activity.
CEO Activism is something that exerts influence on the broader societies that it operates in. Corporate leaders should make it more transparent and demarcated to reduce risk from democracy that bids for their participation.