Story Stream
recent articles

In the age of social justice activism and virtue signaling, a growing number of corporations are caving to external and internal activists’ demands that they use their resources and brands to advocate particular political outcomes on contentious social issues.Whatever near-term points corporations think they gain from pandering to political activists, a recent study and poll indicate that these corporations risk sustained alienation of their current and prospective employees (and their consumers, too) from such short-sighted behavior.The 2023 Viewpoint Diversity Score Freedom at Work Survey, conducted by Ipsos, surveyed over 3,000 American adults employed across a wide variety of professions. A research paper analyzing the results concludes that “companies could increase employee engagement and trust over their products and services by creating a climate where people feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of unintended consequences on their career and life.”Among the survey’s wide-ranging questions, respondents were asked whether they support parental-rights-in-education laws—like the one Florida adopted last year—that “protect the freedom of parents to decide what their kindergarten through 3rd grade children are taught in the classroom about sex and gender identity by limiting what teachers can discuss and requiring notification and consent of parents before sensitive topics can be addressed.”Fifty-five percent of participants supported such legislation, compared with only 14 percent who oppose it. As our paper discusses, even when respondents who were initially unaware of the Florida parental rights legislation learned more through an information treatment, they reported increased discomfort with current or prospective employers taking stands against parental rights. Simply put, the more participants learned about parental rights bills, the more they supported them.This broad employee support for parental rights laws like Florida’s is notably out of sync with the widespread corporate opposition to them. Two-hundred-eighty-four large corporations (including The Walt Disney Corporation, Starbucks, Target, Apple, and financial institutions including Deutsche Bank and PNC Financial Services Group) signed the Human Rights Campaign’s statement opposing such state-level legislation.The disconnect between the C-Suite and employees on social issues can seriously harm a firm’s ability to retain and recruit employee talent. A plurality of employees (44%) say they are uncomfortable with their employer taking a stance on a controversial cultural issue that contradicts the views of many employees and customers. Forty-two percent say that perceptions of hostility against religious or political views make them much less likely to apply to a company. And 30% say they have considered changing jobs to live in a state or region that is more tolerant of their values.The survey also suggests that corporate political activism is spilling over into the workplace, creating an impression of an intolerant culture where employees fear they will lose their jobs if their heterodox religious or political views become known. Large majorities (60% and 64%) say that respectfully expressing religious or political viewpoints would “likely or somewhat likely” have negative consequences on their employment.Nearly half of those surveyed have not shared their personal views about a social or political issue because of fear that sharing them would harm their career. Roughly a fifth have encountered negative treatment or discrimination for respectfully communicating their religious or political views. And 54% say they are very or somewhat concerned that sharing political content on their own social media accounts could result in negative consequences in the workplace.Employees shouldn’t fear that their religious or political views could cost them their job. But the Freedom at Work Survey shows that a significant number of employees do.If corporate America wants to earn and retain the trust of employees, companies will have to do far better when it comes to respecting their diverse religious and political views. They can start by adopting several Viewpoint Diversity Score standards and best practices that received significant support from survey respondents.First, companies should include respect for a wide range of religious and political beliefs as part of their commitment to diversity (66%). Second, they should adopt a policy that commits to respecting viewpoint diversity in the workplace (49%). Third, they should adopt a policy that respects the freedom of employees to engage in political activity on their own time, without having to fear repercussions at work (48%). And companies cannot just give lip service to these principles; if they don’t genuinely allow the freedom of expression among all, they will bear the costs.It's no secret that America is deeply divided, but corporations shouldn’t fan those flames. Instead, they should create a workplace culture based on mutual trust and respect for religious, political, and other differences. The employees who participated in the Freedom at Work Survey charted a path for companies that want to build back trust. The only question that remains is, will business leaders listen?

Jeremy Tedesco is senior counsel and senior vice president of corporate engagement for Alliance Defending Freedom (@ADFLegal). Christos Makridis is an adjunct associate research scholar at the Chazen Institute in Columbia Business School.

Show comments Hide Comments