Corporate Activism

A case study of GE’s stand on bathroom bills and lessons learned. A political stand on LGBTQ rights by GE five years ago met with acclaim in many quarters but also led to criticism from some legislators and to a contentious proposal at an the company’s annual meeting claiming strategic hypocrisy. But the harshest criticism came from employees who disagreed with the company’s position and lamented that “political correctness” had run amok at GE. It’s the backstory to the challenges GE’s leadership faced after taking on the issue, and one that offers lessons for directors to consider as more and more companies ponder corporate activism. — Eve Tahmincioglu By Alex Dimitrief September’s unprecedented letter from 145 CEOs to Congress in support of gun control portends that a growing number of divisive political issues are about to become the business of business. In the same vein, a recent Edelman survey suggests that nearly half of consumers are more likely to make purchases from a company whose CEO has taken a stand against gun violence.  As the Business Roundtable beats its retreat from “shareholder primacy” to “stakeholder governance” and more customers, employees, government officials and investors insist (in increasingly sophisticated social media campaigns) upon alignment on social issues that are important to them, it will become harder for CEOs to choose, as most traditionally have, to stay out of the fray.  At the same time, corporate activism never pleases ...

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