Redefining Business

Post-Election Call to Action For Business

Flag, Back-lit

by Robert Strand
Executive Director, Berkeley-Haas Center for Responsible Business

As the dust begins to settle after a rather unusual – and frankly troubling – U.S. presidential election it is time for us to assess where we are and what to do.  I believe two issues demand our most urgent attention and consideration for action:  Social Inclusion and Climate Change.

As citizens, so many of us are looking for meaningful and impactful action we can take.  As members of the business community, I would argue we have a unique opportunity (and dare I say – a responsibility) to do just that.

I contend Social Inclusion and Climate Change are issues for which the business community has an incredible opportunity to assume a leadership position to drive positive change.  I do not pretend to have the definitive answers so I warmly welcome your input in the comments below.  I am particularly interested to hear what our students think.

First, let us consider Social Inclusion.  We heard remarkably dangerous and divisive rhetoric during the campaign.  This rhetoric has already incited some rather disgusting displays of hate.  We cannot accept this as the new normal.  This divisive rhetoric tears at the fabric of America and represents a call to ask the important question “What makes America great?”  (As Jon Stewart recently pointed out during a post-election interview – why wasn’t this question asked during the election?)

I believe that America is greatest when all of us have the freedom to fulfill our potentials and are supported in these pursuits.  This is an inclusive ideal that is not reserved for a particular religion, a particular race, a particular gender, a particular sexual orientation, or any other classification invoked to divide us.  Want to make America great?  Fight to ensure the ideal of inclusion applies to everyone.

In the face of efforts to enact discriminatory policies, the business community must step up to leverage its influence to oppose them.  Business wields a great deal influence in the political realm.  Moreover, business must step up to further enact voluntary policies and practices that make it more likely to engage and hire groups of people who have been traditionally disenfranchised and left out.  This may mean new forms of recruiting and hiring practices, talent development, and a suite of new approaches to encourage and celebrate a diverse working force.

I recently learned about the Adobe Digital Academy that serves to attract and develop low-income, underrepresented candidates who otherwise would not have likely had the chance to join the tech industry.  There is great opportunity for innovation in this space to further develop and scale such initiatives as a means to realize untapped potential, build more inclusive organizations and, ultimately, a more inclusive society.

Second, let us consider Climate Change.  This represents an entirely different challenge because great harm will be done by doing nothing.  Time is of the essence and we appear to be heading toward a dangerous era of denial and stall tactics.

Here, we need incredible leadership on the part of the business community to relentlessly lobby for smart policy while also voluntarily stepping up to build collective action in the absence of such policy.  We need to see the list of Low-Carbon USA companies grow while at the same time we need new forms of voluntary policies and practices at companies to combat climate change in a significant way.  This will likely take the form of industry collaborations where so-called “competitors” instead see themselves as peers.

In sum, I propose we consider the issues of Social Inclusion and Climate Change each as a lens through which we consider everything.  At the Berkeley-Haas Center for Responsible Business, we previously identified focus areas that enable us to drive deeper impact through greater focus.  Social Inclusion and Climate Change can each represent a lens through which we consider everything we do within these focus areas – and all that we do in business.

What do you think?



7 Responses to “ Post-Election Call to Action For Business ”

  1. Steven Nam said:

    Nov 21, 16 at 12:49 pm

    Excellent points, Robert. To add another layer/wrinkle to social inclusion and climate change, there have been increased stirrings lately in Washington (pre-Trump) on further developing space law. Only once we firm up #bizhumanrights at home (i.e., Earth!) can we expect best practices and legal frameworks to go inter-planetary with us. As if we didn’t have enough on our plates, yes? : )

  2. Alex Wilton said:

    Nov 21, 16 at 4:13 pm

    I could not agree more with the above. One thing that came to mind is the following: whether the severe income inequality in the US could be put under the umbrella of social inclusion, as several of the groups targeted by the campaign rhetoric are disproportionately affected by it. While I believe the government has the primary role to tackle this issue, businesses can still do a lot to move us in the right direction.

  3. Shanna Hoversten said:

    Nov 22, 16 at 9:41 am

    I absolutely agree that as corporate citizens, businesses need to get involved on both of these fronts. In regards to the climate change piece, I’m reminded of a HBR article I read before the election urging businesses to get involved in lobbying for stricter climate change legislation. As the author states: “The corporate lobbying presence in Congress is immense. But in my experience, exactly zero of it is dedicated to lobbying for a good, bipartisan climate bill.” He goes on to identify several progressive corporate giants who could have something to gain from contributing to the climate change fight on the lobbying side. Given the incoming Congress, this will undoubtedly be an uphill battle, but I found it to be good food for thought.

  4. Nancy Cao said:

    Nov 22, 16 at 10:22 am

    Here’s another idea: large companies could give all of their employees 1 paid day per year to participate in political activities – such as attending a community meeting, voting in mid-term elections, participating in a rally or in voter education activities. In addition, local offices could maintain a list of organizations that employees can look up and join with. Without political participation, I think that social inclusion will be even more difficult to achieve in the years ahead.

  5. David Cogswell said:

    Nov 22, 16 at 11:34 am

    Thanks for the call to action, Robert. This is going to be a period of transition for the private sector, with changes to the policy environment expected in areas material to business (e.g., trade, immigration, healthcare). Fortunately, periods of transition provide rich opportunities for leadership. It will be important, therefore, for us as consumers and employees to not only signal to our business leaders that social inclusion/environment issues are important, but also to hold them accountable to the commitments they make in those areas.

  6. Mikhael Abebe said:

    Nov 23, 16 at 12:06 pm

    Robert, this post does a great job of highlighting two distinctly different and separate issues that are both being exacerbated by the same wave of divisive, hateful rhetoric that we saw become so rampant during the past two years. I’m particularly intrigues by your point re: social inclusion because I think this speaks most directly to the inadequacies of our current political system. I believe the lack of social inclusion in our country is a direct result of numerous failings in public policy whereby education, housing, and even things as seemingly benign as transportation systems have been designed to produce disproportionately negative outcomes for certain historically disenfranchised groups. To your point, I think it is imperative that the business community exorcise their influence by directly demanding for improvements to these systems and not just the ones that directly impact their operations. In order for America to be great, all of its citizens must have the opportunity to be great. The only way we can achieve anything close to this ideal state is by not turning a blind eye to impoverished communities and making excuses for why we can’t allocate resources, Federal or otherwise, to their improvement.

  7. Olivia said:

    Dec 02, 16 at 8:03 pm

    Here’s where I find optimism: Trump’s election doesn’t change the fact that the US is more ethnically diverse with each passing year, that currently the majority of Americans believe in climate change (including the majority of Republicans), that more women and people of color are entering positions of power, and despite the president elect’s insistence that coal will have a resurgence, the truth is that the markets have shifted substantially and coal simply can’t compete with cheaper, cleaner fuels. Despite what the president elect claims, and despite inevitable setbacks, it is very hard to turn back the clock on progress (hat tip to MLK’s arc of justice).

    Private sector will continue to increasingly care about climate change and social justice because Americans increasingly care. However, that is not enough, and I’m so glad you’re putting forth a call for collective action by the business community, Robert. As you discussed, the private sector needs to allow itself to become a vocal leader of these causes, and as Shanna said, business representatives must become more political in their support of climate mitigation and adaptation. I completely agree that we need to recognize the potential of collaboration to meet social inclusion and climate change goals. I’ll further put forth that I believe deep collaborations with nonprofits and local governments will be critical. Often businesses won’t have the expertise necessary to meet their aforementioned goals, but rather than being a handicap this should lead to synergistic relationships. CARE and Cargill, and Heineken and The Recycling Partnership are both great examples.

    [Sidebar: Per Alex’s comment, I think business may do a lot with income inequality, especially in public-private partnerships. Example: Under Armour’s founder is making a huge investment in a downtown neighborhood development/UA headquarters in Baltimore (my original home, a region plagued by segregation and serious income inequality). Sagamore Development (Under Armour’s founder’s development company) is in an extremely delicate position and must seek out the opinions of experts and community advocates to ensure that this plan does not further exacerbate economic and racial rifts in the city, but may in fact work to ameliorate them.]

Leave a Comment