What The Careful CEO Should And Shouldn't Talk About: A Handy Guide


CEOs walk a fine line when it comes to talking about hot-button issues like transgender rights or gun control or arming transgender people to fight for the right of immigrants to have affordable health care and equal pay without enduring global warming.

The Statista stats service has put together a handy graphic that reflects a poll by the PR firm Weber Shandwick that essentially asks: What are safe topics for CEOs to talk about, and what areas are foot-in-mouth minefields?

The online poll was taken of 1,021 adult Americans in March and April. “We concluded that CEO activism comes with both risks and rewards for CEOs and their companies,” the report said, offering priceless guidance.

The firm noted that lots of CEOs were against President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from mostly Muslim nations, as well Trump’s decision to ditch U.S. participation in the Paris climate accord.

Again With The Millennials

“We found unmistakable signs generationally that cannot be ignored by business leaders,” the report said. “Millennials, a highly desirable employee and consumer market, are generally more positive about activist CEOs than Gen Xers (ages 37–52) and Boomers (ages 53–71).”

Obviously, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk can say whatever they want since they’re rich enough to rocket your lame millennial carcass to Mars. But let’s just look at what the people polled consider the do’s and don’ts of what topics upon which a chief exec should assume the position.

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Don’t Talk About LGBT Rights. Wait: Seriously?

Only 29 percent of those polled said CEOs should speak out about the topic. But that hasn’t stopped some from trying. Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy got his goose thoroughly cooked when he came out against gay marriage. His solution? He refused to change his mind, but promised not to broach the subject again, which seems kind of (ahem) chicken.

Don’t Talk About Gun Control

Chip Bergh, CEO at Levi Strauss & Co., which makes jeans that seem like they were designed for hip-slung holsters, took a fusillade of shots on Twitter Inc TWTR when he outlawed open-carry guns at the retailer’s outlets. The CEO of Sturm Ruger & Company Inc RGR can no doubt expound endlessly on stopping power. Only 26 percent of respondents believe CEOs should go there.


Don’t Talk About Refugees?

Melinda Gates, the force of nature behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would probably blow her cool if a CEO scurried away from the topic of asylum seekers, people who by definition are fleeing war, famine and unfathomable disaster.

The foundation works toward providing clean water and sanitary, cholera-fighting bathroom facilities in some of the most horrible situations on the planet, an unglamorous yet vital role not often embraced by other humanitarian groups. And look how she tamed a ruthless CEO like Bill.

Yet it tied for last with gun control, with only 26 percent of people polled saying CEOs should talk about this vast problem.

Do Talk About Job Training

Boring. It goes without saying. Job training? Good. No job training? Bad. Yet the reluctance of Congress to provide affordable education — whether it be college tuition or valuable skills learned at trade schools — there isn’t much action on that front. Yet 70 percent of those polled said it needs to be addressed.

Do Talk About Equal Pay

Bingo! The American economy’s Achilles heel and a serious problem with the frat boy CEOs who seem to stagger and swagger around Silicon Valley. Alphabet Inc GOOG GOOGL is under investigation by the Labor Department for wage disparity. Uber is considered a cesspool of sexism. Equal pay for women is such a hot topic that 67 percent of respondents said CEOs need to openly discuss it.

Do Talk Health Care

What is there to say? Corporate America has been slicing away health benefits that once were common for decades, and the GOP-controlled Congress seems torn between continuing that trend — even cutting Medicaid to the bone — while others consider it political dynamite to remove the flawed but life-saving benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Sixty-two (62) percent of Americans think CEOs should join the health care debate.

Be Careful!

The PR firm ultimately concludes that CEOs expressing opinions is a “slippery slope,” but millennials like when they do. As long as they agree. And even if they do, there are those folks on the board of directors.

“Discuss the pros and cons with the board,” the report recommends. “Boards do not like surprises.”


Image Credit: By The White House from Washington, DC (President Trump's First 100 Days: 76) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Original publication: 2017-08-19

Posted In: EntrepreneurshipMovers & ShakersPsychologyManagementMediaGeneralBill and Melinda Gates FoundationBill GatesChick-fil-AChip Berghclimate changeDan CathyDonald TrumpElon Muskequal paygenderGender Gapgun lawsICYMIimmigrationJeff Bezosjob trainingLevi StraussLGBTLGBT rightsMelinda Gatesopen carryParis climate accordpay gaprefugeesright to carryStatistaTransgendertransgender rightsWeber Shandwick