July 19, 2022

Should Your Company Support The Next Social Justice Issue?

employer branding

  • There is a political divide in the country that is increasingly evident in the workplace. Abortion rights is the latest social issue to permeate the workplace
  • Some companies reacted quickly to support abortion rights, perhaps ignoring the long-term consequences to their employer brand. 
  • The best solution for companies may be to remain neutral on social justice issues. 
  • However, there are times when a principled stand is warranted. Your company must decide when that time comes. 

There is a political divide in the country that is increasingly evident in the workplace. While Labor-Management disputes have been common since the inception of corporations, the modern workplace debates are so much more than disputes over wages and working conditions. They have evolved into demands that companies meet the social-political values of their workers no matter the bottom-line repercussions. Consider the following headlines…

Stories of employee activism are increasingly being regarded as a cost of doing business, especially among the larger enterprises. In 2018, Randstad US released survey results that illuminated just how much politics were affecting the workplace. Here are few of the statistics from their report.

  • Over half (55%) have witnessed heated political discussions or arguments at work, and over a third (38%) have been involved in them.
  • Seventy-two percent feel stressed or anxious when heated arguments occur, and 44% say such arguments impact their productivity.
  • Fifty percent say their thoughts and feelings about colleagues have changed after discovering their political beliefs.
  • Forty-three percent have at least one colleague whose political views do not align with their own and have felt excluded at work as a result.
  • Forty-seven percent feel the need to hide their political beliefs in order to fit in with senior leaders.



POLITICAL DEBATES IN THE OFFICE ARE NOT SLOWING DOWN

In the USA, we are in the middle of an election season resulting in the public being inundated with political ads of all sorts. Most notably, the focus of the advertising is the abortion rights debate. In light of the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs Wade, which does not make abortion illegal but leaves the decision to individual state governments, politicians have been quick to label their opponents as unreasonable demagogues. In response to that trend, some companies have been outspoken in their support of “abortion services” for women. Chief among those companies is Google, who sent out this letter to its employees.

Hi everyone,

This morning the US Supreme Court issued a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that rolls back Roe v. Wade.

This is a profound change for the country that deeply affects so many of us, especially women. Everyone will respond in their own way, whether that’s wanting space and time to process, speaking up, volunteering outside of work, not wanting to discuss it at all, or something else entirely. Please be mindful of what your co-workers may be feeling and, as always, treat each other with respect.

Equity is extraordinarily important to us as a company, and we share concerns about the impact this ruling will have on people’s health, lives, and careers. We will keep working to make information on reproductive healthcare accessible across our products and continue our work to protect user privacy.

To support Googlers and their dependents, our US benefits plan and health insurance covers out-of-state medical procedures that are not available where an employee lives and works. Googlers can also apply for relocation without justification, and those overseeing this process will be aware of the situation. If you need additional support, please connect 1:1 with a People Consultant via [link to internal tool redacted].

We will be arranging support sessions for Googlers in the US in the coming days. These will be posted to Googler News.

Please don’t hesitate to lean on your Google community in the days ahead and continue to take good care of yourselves and each other.

 

HOW WILL SUPPORTING THIS AFFECT YOUR EMPLOYER BRAND?

In their haste to support the latest cause cé·lè·bre, companies are ignoring the potential long-term ramifications to their employer brand. Earlier, I referred to a survey conducted by Randstad US. Here are two more data points from that same analysis.

  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents would notinterview atcompanies that publicly promoted political beliefs they did not support.
  • Forty-six percent of employees say it’s important for them to work for employers that take standson controversial political issues.

Quite a conundrum, isn’t it? Taking a position on abortion rights would repel some candidates while simultaneously attracting others. But which candidate would have been the most qualified, available and affordable for the role you are trying to fill? How could you possibly know?

IN CASE YOU FORGOT THE LESSONS OF THE RECENT PAST

But I digress. Taking a stand on any social issue could negatively impact your employer brand if your stance is seen as a performative virtue-signaling exercise. For example, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement was all the rage not too long ago. To appeal to consumers and the rising outcry of employee demands, companies rushed to appear “woke,” to their own detriment. A few examples…

  • Chris Gilliard argued in Fast Company that YouTube, Amazon, and Nextdoor are "Black Power-washing" which is when “…companies issue essentially meaningless statements about their commitment to Black folks but do little to change their policies, hiring practices, or ultimately their business models…”
  • Judd Legum of Popular Information pointed out, “In the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, major corporations are rushing to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement. But several of the same corporations have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to members of Congress that are rated "F" by the NAACP, the nation's largest civil rights organization.”
  • The Metropolitan Opera tweeted that there was no place for racism in the arts butwere called out for not performing the work of Black composers.
  • Marketing Week published the article, “If ‘Black Lives Matter’ to brands, where are your black board members?” and in it showed screenshots of predominantly white board of directors pages of companies next to their public statement of support for the BLM movement.

Of course, this brings us back to the issue of the day. Is your company tempted to follow the latest trend (supporting abortion rights) at the risk of long-term employer brand impact? If so, may I suggest a few strategies before final decisions are made?

MAYBE NEUTRALITY IS THE BEST STRATEGY

Maybe the best solution for your company is to remain neutral by not being overtly vocal on a position (and thereby risk reputational damage) and instead, offer benefits that might appeal to opponents and proponents of (insert latest social issue here). Since reproductive rights are a focus of national conversation today, I will share examples of (somewhat) neutral stances.

  • Amazon will pay up to $4,000 in travel expenses for abortions and other non-life-threatening medical procedures. The benefit applies if the medical care is not available within 100 miles of an employee’s home. Simultaneously, they offer infertility treatment coverage, infertility treatment specialists, and personalized support from a patient care advocate.
  • Apple via its health insurance provider will cover travel and medical costs of employees who want to get an abortion. They also offer $20,000 worth of fertility treatments.
  • Bumble created a relief fund for people seeking an abortionin Texas. Yet at the same time, they offer discounts for IVF, artificial insemination, and egg freezing.
  • Salesforce will help relocate anyone concerned about getting reproductive care. They also give assistance with egg, embryo, and sperm freezing, IVF, and artificial insemination; a $10,000 adoption reimbursement per child; and a $10,000 surrogacy reimbursement.
  • Starbucks will pay travel expenses for U.S. employees to get an abortion or gender-confirmation procedures if those services aren’t available within 100 miles of a worker’s home. The benefit will also be available to dependents of employees enrolled in its health care coverage. Starbucks also offers up to $10,000 per adoption, surrogacy, or artificial insemination; and a $20,000 IVF benefit to all employees.
  • Tesla announced in their 2021 impact report they had a program and insurance available “that includes travel and lodging support for those who may need to seek healthcare services that are unavailable in their home state.” In addition to that, they offer unlimited IVF coverage.

Of course, not every company has the budget for such perks, in those cases a Health Savings Account (HSA) may be the way to go. Companies contribute a certain amount, leaving the employees to spend on medical expenses, as they see fit. This puts the choice of medical procedures at the discretion of the employee and not the employer. Plus, there are tax advantages.

 

BEFORE YOUR COMPANY REACTS TO THE NEXT TRENDING SOCIAL ISSUE, DO THIS FIRST!

Today abortion rights are the focus, yesterday it was BLM and tomorrow it will be ___________. When the next issue makes headlines and your company is tempted to trumpet its support, be careful to pause a moment and ask the following...

  • Is this social issue in line with the values of our company?
  • If so, was the company supporting it prior to the issue making headlines? If not, why not?
  • How will our company support this issue in the short term?
  • How will our company support this issue in the long term, well after the headlines disappear?
  • Is the company willing to put a budget behind supporting this issue? If not, why not?
  • What are the tangible results of supporting this issue?
  • What are the possible negative effects of supporting this issue?
  • Does the company support other issues that conflict with this one? If so, how do we resolve the inconsistency?
  • Is there any proof that in the past, we have acted in the opposite way of what we now purport to champion? If so, are we prepared to denounce them?

The bottom line for all of this is that your company should know its values well enough to articulate them, believe in them enough to follow them and stand by them enough to inspire your workers. A company cannot do that if they are easily swayed by the latest outrage. Standing up for what you believe inis indeed,the right thing to do. So, do it wisely.

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