I recently did an online lecture on CEO activism for HBA students at Ivey Business School. In my last post I shared the video of my discussion with Ivey HBA Program Faculty Director Mary Weil. In this and the next few, I’ll answer a few more of the great questions that students submitted.
Today, a question from Evin.
Are there any social issues that you believe CEOs should not express an opinion or take action on?
There’s been some opinion research done on what the public wants CEOs to weigh in on. For example, a 2018 Stanford study showed that the top issues where CEO input was welcome were on universal issues like clean air, healthcare and clean energy. At the bottom of the list were abortion rights, politics and religion.The Canadian results of the annual Edelman Trust Barometer showed that people wanted CEOs to focus on business issues like job training and the ethical use of tech.
So the data has been clear that they want CEOs to focus on universal issues and those closest to business, while staying away from the more personal or social issues. It’s not a coincidence that the topics on which CEOs are most welcome are also often less controversial. Everyone likes clean water and good healthcare, and job training.
True CEO activism comes from the heart. It’s not a reaction to public pressure. It’s reaction to a problem or injustice that they are passionate about. By definition, it’s controversial. So the CEO is not going to wait for (or generally get) an invitation to join the conversation. Often they are barging in.
I think that’s okay. They just need to understand that the amount of criticism they get, the number of Tweets aimed at them to stay in their own lane, will vary by issue and be okay with that. CEO activism is not for the faint of heart.