Four of five Americans (81%) say corporations should take action to address issues facing society, and 88% say corporations can influence social change, according to Global Strategy Group’s Business and Politics: Do They Mix? study, released on Wednesday.
"There is an acceptance of company activity on a broad range of issues, even issues that had previously been thought of as controversial," said Julie Hootkin, EVP at the firm. "Americans are now willing to support corporate positions on things like pay equity, but also things like race relations or LGBT issues."
She added that those expectations may grow with the start of the Trump presidency next month.
"Companies are viewed as having a responsibility to drive change on some of these issues," Hootkin said. "Of course at the end of the day, the president and Congress are responsible for policy changes, but people view companies as key actors. Many companies have activated, elevated the dialogue, and driven change around key issues in the last few years."
Respondents ranked businesses third in terms of their responsibility to drive change (84%), after Congress (92%) and the president (89%). Eight in 10 respondents said they support corporate positions on pay equity, 77% on race relations, 63% on immigration reform, 59% on LGBT equality, and 54% on transgender issues, according to the report.
Many executives have addressed the results of the election with employees, according to the report, which examined 23 letters from CEOs to their staffers following the election. Most reassured them of their commitment to inclusion and the company’s mission and values, which Hootkin said was a clear reaction to Trump’s election.
"The notion that CEOs and corporate leadership were compelled to communicate with employees about the outcome of the election was novel," she said. "Much of this new world order is unpredictable. The notion that company leaders and CEOs felt compelled to speak out—and do so in a responsive and timely way—underscores this new environment where there is this expectation from consumers and employees."
Millennials, more than the average American, said they expect businesses to take stances. After major events of 2016, such as the Pulse nightclub mass shooting, the Dallas police shooting, North Carolina’s "bathroom law," the presidential election, and the Black Lives Matter movement, millennials thought it was important for companies to have an opinion.
The number of millennials who want to work for a company that reflects their values (88%) was also higher than the average (83%). Nearly one in three Millennials search out knowledge of what companies are doing, as well.
Members of the generation also wanted a quick response, with 62% saying businesses should comment on an event within 72 hours.
"The sooner a company can respond to a current event, the more authentic the response, because they haven’t labored over the best way to respond," Hootkin explained. "There is certainly a desire to see companies being highly engaged in the world, and there is an authenticity in that timeliness that Americans really value."