Business leaders stood up for equality and diversity last week in disbanding their Presidential advisory councils. That was the easy part for most of them. However, there are a number of public “pressures points” and issues that will continue to challenge businesses’ moral voice in America. Looking ahead, these are important issues for our pluralist, free market society. These issues and business’ leadership on them will also challenge corporate public affairs and communications teams. There will be an important role to be played by business that looks beyond the “self serving” bottom line issues-of-the-day to the larger value of business leadership in society.
Some Ongoing Pressure Points: Populism, protectionism, America first and anti-globalism continue to simmer. Growth of Breitbart flame throwing may foster further anti-corporatism. Trade agreements are already on the chopping block or being renegotiated — which could lead to not only “bad” global trade deals but continuing social division. Tax reform may get done and may significantly benefit corporations. Infrastructure may be less a public works program and more a private-sector financing “boondoggle”. Technology “monopolies” will come under scrutiny on various fronts.
How will business lead on these issues? They will need to explain income inequality and lack of middle class income growth in context of their own take home pay, corporate profits and tax reform that may benefit them. Business leaders will need to advocate and make a case for global capitalism as protectionist forces demonize trade blame trade agreements for populist reasons, not economic ones. Tech companies will come under regulatory scrutiny on various fronts from how they use data to their place in free speech debates.
A stable and growing global economy, income and income growth, employment, and the power of technology are just a few of the issues where business leadership will be challenged and needed. These issues are more nuanced, and in some ways more difficult, for business leadership than what leaders went through this week. Hoping we can count on that broad and moral voice of corporate America as we move forward.