In this issue
It’s been a little over a year since the Business Roundtable (BRT) issued its much-ballyhooed statement on corporate purpose. Many of the commentators who welcomed it rapturously predicted the statement would usher in a new era of corporate social responsibility (CSR), with corporations tackling a range of social problems such as climate change and racism. After a year in which society and business have faced unprecedented problems, it seems fair to ask whether corporations have really embraced the BRT’s vision of corporate purpose.
There are many reasons for the ascendency of stakeholder-thinking in business. Some have even argued that “stakeholder capitalism” is the new narrative that better describes how businesses can be successful. While there has also been a great deal of skepticism around this proposed change in narrative, it is worth a more careful look at why the ideas of Milton Friedman seem to fall short in today’s world, on this occasion of the 50th anniversary of his essay “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits,” published in The New York Times Magazine in 1970.
In the midst of economic calamity and the pandemic, capitalism is under fire. Present important debates over inequality of opportunity and outcomes, reinvigorating communities and addressing challenges from globalization to climate change to broader social justice come together in questions about our economic system: What should businesses and their leaders be doing? For whom should the corporation be run?
Diversity in the boardroom and the C-suite remains a top priority, but we must take the dialogue deeper and become more creative in our approach. While giving current efforts a chance to yield significant results, it is time to apply less prescriptive approaches to achieve remarkable diversity in our boardrooms.
Despite the fanfare around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), the corporate boardroom remains one of the least diverse environments in America. From 2010 to 2018, the representation of people of color on corporate boards increased from 12.8% to just 16.1%, an annual growth rate of less than half a percent, according to the Alliance for Board Diversity.