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8 Considerations for Business Leaders Speaking up on Public Issues

Jun 7, 2022 Beth Monaghan

As a business leader, should you take a public stance on Roe v. Wade or the horrifying gun violence and racism in this country? 

Businesses have opportunities to use their voices and implement policies that can help change the world and protect the people in their communities

But we’re living in unprecedented times and external and internal communications are more complicated now. 

For some, it feels like a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” world. Performative words are never well-received. On the other hand, silence can be viewed as a position and often equals acceptance. 

But actions always speak louder than words. Where should you begin? With political and deeply personal issues like reproductive rights and racism, communication and action should always begin within. Work from your values and what your audiences — particularly your employees — care about most.

So should you speak out or shut up? Before you enter into a controversial public conversation, here’s what you should consider: 

Operate from your values. Weigh your desire to respond with your values. Would issuing a statement align? If yes, does the content of your statement map to them? Values become real when they are lived.

Know your audience(s). As an employer, how will this public issue impact your key stakeholders? If your world of customers, partners, employees, investors and shareholders include women, parents, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people, they will want to feel protected and respected by you. It’s worth noting that a Deloitte study found that 44% percent of millennials and 49% of Gen Zs make choices about where they work and what they do based on personal values. Alignment is important. Start by understanding the demographics. 

Weigh the possible consequences. Could silence lead to an influx of media inquiries or turn your employees into sources? Will speaking out bring more questions? All of these are possibilities. Here’s what you can do: make sure you have policies in place to back up what you’re saying. And don’t wait to have a crisis plan in place – it’s always better to be proactive vs. reactive when it comes to corporate communications. 

Rethink your benefits. Most companies don’t think of their benefits as PR assets. Today, they are. Mine your employee handbook for the ones that make people’s lives better. And if you can’t find any, it might be time to implement them—as long as they are substantive, not performative. Listen to what your employees need, not just what they want (think: policies that support women and familiesthe groups most affected during the pandemic). 

Check your state of mind. Are you reacting or responding? This is one of those times to write the response, sit with it, and see how you feel an hour or a day later. Send it to some trusted advisors. What is your appetite for arguing with contrarian voices on social media? Does that serve your organization’s purpose, or your purpose, or neither

Lead with facts. Regardless of the type of information you disseminate: make sure you have the facts. Who are you retweeting? Where does your data come from? The bar is, and will be, higher now. ICYMI: Businesses are the new battleground states.

Be prepared for trolls. Speaking out unearths wells of support you didn’t know existed (we’ve been overwhelmed by the stories we’ve received from clients and employees since announcing our paid leave benefit for pregnancy loss), but also the trolls. Trolls are merely looking for fights: these are best blocked and ignored. There will be other voices that warrant meaningful engagement. These decisions should be done in coordination with your PR teams who can help assess how, when and if to engage. 

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