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There is an old-school tradition that a company should remain neutral in controversial debates regarding social issues. In my 30+ years of experience in American business culture I have seen plenty of evidence to support this notion that a company should take no chances in alienating its customer base by taking sides in the culture’s more contentious discussions. After all, isn’t it a disastrous public relations event when any group decides to boycott our product or service because we publicly support/disagree with a position in social debate on topics like gay rights, national health care, abortion, or chronic racism? Play the business game safe – stay neutral, stay silent.  But, is this in line with corporate social responsibility practices today?

In the past 5-7 years, there seems to be a real shift away from the neutral zone. Nike embraced Colin Kaepernick’s position on kneeling during our national anthem. Hobby Lobby went to the Supreme Court about losing its religious freedom. Levi’s and Hallmark made their cases regarding homosexuality. Even in politics, open support for one political party’s agenda or candidate over the other seems to be more mainstream in corporate 2020 than in any other time.

Perhaps, publicly aligning or financially supporting one side of a socio-political issue is not necessarily as big a corporate risk as we once surmised? In fact, remaining neutral may be the greater problem for risk-adverse leaders and companies.  This is the diverse conversation that businesses and organizations must discuss around Corporate Social Responsibility.

Brian Kropp is a Group VP and Chief Researcher within Gartner, a global research and advisory firm for corporate HR, marketing, and customer service. Brian presented somewhat surprising information at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event on October 13 regarding the expectations of today’s employees – especially with the many upheavals in 2020. Primarily, 75% of employees expect their company to take a public stance on social issues. Citing a factor called “high engagement”, the number of highly engaged employees jumps from 40% to 60% when the organization acted on social issues of the day. The key word is “acted”. His research also showed that solely issuing a corporate statement – a very common organizational response – is worse for employee engagement compared to doing nothing.

On November 10, we are hosting an all-day global eLearning conference called “A New Era of eLearning:  Stories that Shape Our Future”. At 11:00 AM EST, Gartner’s Brian Kropp will provide the practical stories, and data, of the why and how companies can open up the conversation on these corporate social responsibility issues. Be sure to catch Brian’s presentation and stories on November 10 by going to the website,