The events in Charlottesville have revealed an emboldened, vocal and violent minority of angry white men determined to Make America HATE again and protect the institution of racism. The one that taught us in school that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights and the secession question, not slavery. And the one that claims Confederate Flags are signs of “Southern Pride.” It’s the same school of thought that suggests that the systems to encourage diversity in universities are unfair, but the justice system is color blind. Or that the author of the now infamous Google memo suggesting women are inferior to men was simply exercising a right to free speech.
Our nation needs leadership. Desperately. And increasingly we are turning to private sector leaders to serve as the stewards of integrity and inclusion. We look to the statements and actions of CEOs to fill the leadership vacuum left by the CEO turned POTUS.
And it makes sense. Most adults spend more time in their workplaces and with their work colleagues than they do anywhere else. And because we are lifelong learners, the workplace presents an opportunity for us to learn about everything from new technology to appreciation for diverse backgrounds, ideas and cultures. If racism is learned, so is inclusion. And if the workplace is the new classroom, that makes the CEO the Headmaster.
Over the past 24 hours we’ve seen three CEOs take a stand by resigning from the President’s Manufacturing Council – Merck, Intel and UnderArmour. And while many are talking about this as a political stand, let’s not forget that this is not simply a vote against the President’s choice of response – it is a stand in favor of inclusion, in all of its many manifestations.
In doing so, these leaders are demonstrating the values of their organization and showing their stakeholders what is important. And while I believe they are doing these things for the right reason – to advocate for the values they believe in for themselves and for their organization, they can expect to be supported. A recent MWWPR survey identified a powerful target of the population called CorpSumers – people who vote with their wallet based on a company’s reputation and their shared values. These people are more likely to switch to a new product, stick with a product that has disappointed them and advocate that others buy those products because they believe in what the company stands for. Companies with integrity and strong reputations win the war for talent, and attract the individual investor.
And it is also the right thing to do, Despite the very distinct possibility that taking that stand will result in being blasted in the new, digital version of a middle school slam book: Donald Trump’s twitter feed. Let’s hope these CorpSumers come out in force for these companies. And let’s hope that other CEOs follow the lead.