business leaders - voices raisedPolitics and business have been intermixed for a long time. Even so, another shift is occurring. The Global Strategy Group began conducting an annual Business and Politics: Do They Mix? research study. The 2014 Annual study found that 56 percent of Americans “now believe that corporations should take a stance on political and social issues, regardless of whether or not they are controversial.” In 2013, only 44 percent agreed with that statement. How businesses exert their influence on social and economic issues can be demanding.

The Global Strategy Group released their third annual study in January 2016. In its release, the following statistic stands out:

“Americans are overwhelmingly supportive of corporate political engagement—88 percent of respondents agree that corporations have the power to influence social change and 78 percent agree that companies should take action to address important issues facing society.”

Dangers exist for businesses standing up for certain issues, especially with the polarization present today. However, business can be a voice for positive change, and employees and customers may now expect business leaders to raise their rational voice in an environment of stalemate and divisiveness.

If political leaders cannot facilitate progress, business leaders maybe can.

Current Presidential Election and Raised Business Leader Voices

The current presidential election is messy, more than usual. In a recent Pew Research Center study, 41 percent say it is difficult to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. People believe neither would make a good president.

Some business leaders are finding it easier to make a choice. In a Fortune 500 survey, 58 percent of CEOs support Hillary Clinton. The reason is that the rhetoric and policies being promoted by Trump are causing business leaders to state strong support for diversity, decency, and an undivided country.

Highlighted are several raised business leader voices:

Meg Whitman, CEO, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

“Donald Trump’s demagoguery has undermined the fabric of our national character.

Trump’s reckless and uninformed positions on critical issues – from immigration to our economy to foreign policy – have made it abundantly clear that he lacks both the policy depth and sound judgment required as President. Trump’s unsteady hand would endanger our prosperity and national security. His authoritarian character could threaten much more.”

Reed Hastings, CEO and Co-Founder of Netflix

“Trump would destroy much of what is great about America. Hillary Clinton is the strong leader we need, and it’s important that Trump lose by a landslide to reject what he stands for.”

 Jim Cicconi, Senior Executive Vice President, AT&T Services, Inc.

“I’ve supported every Republican Presidential candidate since 1976, and was honored to work for two of them. But this year I think it’s vital to put our country’s wellbeing ahead of party. Hillary Clinton is experienced, qualified, and will make a fine President. The alternative, I fear, would set our Nation on a very dark path.”

Warren Buffet, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

“I ask Donald Trump: ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir?’”

Note: The above question references a famous 1950s quotation from the McCarthy hearings.

Bill George, former CEO, Medtronic

“In this election the choice between Clinton and Trump is clear: one is fully qualified to be our next President, and the other has neither the experience nor the temperament to be President. For this reason I am enthusiastically endorsing Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.”

145 tech leaders sign open letter — Donald Trump is a ‘disaster for innovation’

“We believe in an inclusive country that fosters opportunity, creativity and a level playing field. Donald Trump does not. He campaigns on anger, bigotry, fear of new ideas and new people, and a fundamental belief that America is weak and in decline. We have listened to Donald Trump over the past year and we have concluded: Trump would be a disaster for innovation. His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy — and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth.”

Business Leaders: Raised Voices for Positive Impact

With citizens wanting to see corporations more active in social and economic challenges, business leaders are beginning to accept a proactive role. I believe the reason for this shift is due to the divisiveness that has been present for too long. With Trump, there is now one vocal point to this message of being spiteful and disparaging.

I am glad to see greater business leader activism in the conversations and actions.

I also have expressed my concern for what Trump is promoting. Like some of the CEOs highlighted above, I have worked for Republican leaders in the past. In the 1980s, the Republican message was one of economic growth and social nets while incenting people to climb the economic ladder. Outreach to disadvantaged areas and people was beginning to happen, with some taking a greater leadership role in extending their hand and efforts.

The point is the policies and messages were about the importance of economic diversity and prosperity mixed with a strong sense of optimism. It was not perfect, but it was an optimistic pursuit of betterment.

Trump is not a leader; he is an agitator of the worst kind. No positive, higher purpose agenda exists. As I said before, he is a bully-in-chief, and this is an example we cannot promote or support.

We must return to diversified outreach and economic ladder messages and solutions.

The Next Business Leader Challenge: Close the Gaps

Just focusing on the voices is missing the point of what is happening today. Underneath Trump, support exists. The initial thought was Trump support was coming from the less educated and more economically challenged individuals. Some disagree with this by itself. Recent work indicates his support comes from zip codes in which diversity is limited, meaning suburbs where sameness is the norm.

Although there may be truth to less diverse areas being more supportive of Trump, there is no denying there is discontent in certain areas of our country. J.D. Vance writes about these shifts in his excellent book, Hillbilly Elegy. In a recent article, J.D. Vance wrote:

“Yet a common thread among Trump’s faithful, even among those whose individual circumstances remain unspoiled, is that they hail from broken communities. These are places where good jobs are impossible to come by. Where people have lost their faith and abandoned the churches of their parents and grandparents. Where the death rates of poor white people go up even as the death rates of all other groups go down. Where too many young people spend their days stoned instead of working and learning.”

Two essential questions arise:

Who will raise their voices for individuals sunk in the gaps of society?

Who will raise their voices for individuals discriminated against because they don’t match our color or preferences?

Business leaders can raise their voices, and some have.

More than raised voices, setting the right examples by extending a hand, listening to understand, and creating jobs in extraordinary and out-of-the-ordinary areas will be vital.

Words are only part of the equation. Taking actions to embrace diverse talents creates greater value. Creating jobs in economically-challenged areas puts a new foundation in place in which people can rise up to better lives.

Our Time to Add Our Voice and Actions

The silver lining in this election can be that we begin to solve problems again. We can begin to meet in the middle again and develop solutions that take the best from each side.

We need to stand for decency and diversity in more areas than just in who will be our next president. We need to stand up in areas where they feel they are forgotten or have lost their voice. We need to bring individuals together to create a better standard of conversation, actions, and results.

With over 75 million Millennials in the United States, they are the largest generation now, and their voice will be heard – if they vote. The only generational issue is this: How can we solve economic, infrastructure, and financial issues that have gone unaddressed? Each generation needs to vote with legacy in mind, a legacy of creating a better environment for future citizens and communities.

We must rise up as business leaders and citizens.

We need to accept diversity with grace and understanding. We need to find the common threads that can weave a better future together rather than separate.

Are you ready to raise your voice and use your hands to do the positive work and close the gaps, building a foundation in which we can dance to a more diverse, positive, creative result?