CEOs Should Lead on Addressing Social Issues, Poll Finds

Posted May 1, 2018 4:51 p.m. EDT

Chief executives across the business world are increasingly wading into political issues that were once considered off limits — like gun control and climate change — but they might not be moving fast enough.

A new poll shows consumers expect chief executives to proactively take steps on social issues, even before lawmakers do. “Sixty-four percent of people say that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it,” according to the results of the Edelman Trust Barometer, a poll of 33,000 individuals across 28 markets around the world.

The poll found that “84 percent expect CEOs to inform conversations and policy debates on one or more issues,” and 56 percent said “they have no respect for CEOs who remain silent on important issues.”

The poll results, which were released at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on Tuesday, are the latest signal that consumers are looking to corporations to take on issues far beyond their traditional mandate. In the past two months, for example, some big banks like Citigroup and Bank of America created policies to address their relationships with gun-makers. BlackRock, the largest money manager in the world, recently informed companies that they need to contribute to society or risk losing BlackRock’s support.

The annual poll by Edelman, which the public relations firm has conducted for 18 years, has often become a talking point among chief executives at gatherings like the World Economic Forum.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding this year is that “all age groups expect a company’s CEO to be personally visible in sharing its purpose and vision” (75 percent among ages 18 to 34, 80 percent among ages 35 to 54, 83 percent among those 55 and older and 79 percent for all age groups combined).

Still, it appears those in the corner office have a trust gap with the public and their employees. “Seventy-one percent of people are more likely to believe what they hear from employees over what they hear from CEOs,” the poll found, and “55 percent of employees find independent news sources more believable for information about the company they work for, versus 45 percent who are more likely to believe what they hear directly from the CEO.”