Message to companies: Your employees want you to speak up

Most employees say companies should have a say on issues that influence their business.

L-R: Ethan McCarty, Heide Gardner, Dawn Lyon, Tracy Chou
L-R: Ethan McCarty, Heide Gardner, Dawn Lyon, Tracy Chou

NEW YORK: Employee activism is no longer just defined by workers speaking up on the issues that matter to them. It’s now staffers demanding their employers do the same, said Interpublic Group chief diversity and inclusion officer Heide Gardner.

Gardner was joined on a panel at the Arthur W. Page Society’s Spring Seminar in New York on Thursday by Dawn Lyon, VP of corporate affairs at Glassdoor, who said working Americans strongly believe employers should influence the policies and regulations that affect them.

"Two-in-three now say they expect their employer to take a stand on issues affecting our country [such as] constitutional rights [and] immigration, equal rights, and climate change," said Lyon.

She also noted that more than half of employees expect their employer to allow them to use work time and resources to advocate for positive social changes regardless of political affiliation. Among millennials, that number rises to 72%.

"Companies can’t sit idly by and be neutral [when it comes to societal issues]," Lyon said.  

Employees are driven to action by a perceived gap between a company’s values and their experiences, said Gardner.

"Employees get involved because they have a strong sense of identity as a woman, as a [member of the] LGBT community, as members of various ethnic groups, or who are disabled," she said. "A general sense of disparity on a societal level also inspires people."

Panelists recommended companies help employee activists by creating forums to allow them to bring their voices together.

Thinking the unthinkable
The rise of activism is also contributing to a state of extreme uncertainty in decision-making by leaders, according to veteran BBC journalist Nik Gowing, who spoke on-stage earlier on Thursday with APCO Worldwide founder and executive chairman Margery Kraus. Senior leaders are being overwhelmed by intense pressures such as institutional conformity, willful blindness, groupthink, fear of making career-limiting moves, reactionary mindsets, cognitive overload and dissonance, and denial, he explained.

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