There is no longer a place for American businesses that do not take a stand on critical social issues. From Google, to Pepsi, to Uber, just to name a few, social activism has a massive impact on companies around the United States.
The common wisdom used to be that businesses should not engage with potentially divisive social issue because 1) everyone is a customer and you don’t want to anger them and 2) there's a distinction between the business world and social world. These beliefs are increasingly wrong.
The idea that everyone is your customer - except in incredibly specific circumstances - is a bad business strategy and a worse communications strategy. We know not everyone will buy your product. That's why we create audience personas, develop targeted outreach, use account based sales techniques, and develop key relationships. To think differently would be to go against marketing and business best practices.
Thinking that there is a clear line between business and social issues has always been a fallacy and one that has been made increasingly clear over the last 5 years. Everything from resource sourcing to wages, employee benefits, and product pricing are impacted by social movements including environmentalism, labor, and civil rights campaigns. Businesses do not sit in a vacuum removed from these movements. Rather they, and their operations, are directly impacted by these movements.
Companies and executives who fail to realize this, risk more than their images: they risk their jobs and their organizations. Looking at Uber as an extreme example, their decision to ignore the immigrant travel ban, their lack of repercussion for internal sexism, and Travis Kalanick's blatant disregard for social mores, lead to a massive boycott of the service. While Uber didn’t fold due to this boycott, it did lead to Travis’ removal, major changes to operations, and a shakeup at the highest levels of the organization.
Organizations who fail to learn from this are doomed to suffer the same, if not a much worse, fate.
After Nazi-saluting white supremacists rioted in Charlottesville, Va., and President Trump dithered in his response, a chorus of business leaders rose up this past week to condemn hate groups and espouse tolerance and inclusion. And as lawmakers in Texas tried to restrict the rights of transgender people to use public bathrooms, corporate executives joined activists to kill the bill. These and other actions are part of a broad recasting of the voice of business in the nation’s political and social dialogue, a transformation that has gained momentum in recent years as the country has engaged in fraught debates over everything from climate change to health care.