When Indiana and Arkansas passed their controversial “religious freedom” bills last year, gay rights teams cried out. Activists argued that these laws would certainly effectively legalize discrimination, allowing shopkeepers to turn away gay patrons.
At the height of the fracas, an unlikely voice chimed in.
“These bills rationalize injustice,“ Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in a widely-circulated Washington Article op-ed last March. Cook, that is gay, said in the op-ed that he was speaking out on behalf of Apple.
Around that exact same time, yet another high-profile executive was discussing a social mission of his own. Troubled by the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced last March a campaign to tackle racism in America by having baristas talk to their customers regarding race relations.
To company school professors Aaron Chatterji and Michael Toffel, these efforts had something in common—they seemed to represent a brand-new sort of corporate activism.
“These CEOs are intentionally courting controversy by weighing in on contentious problems devoid of any kind of obvious pretense of raising profits,” the pair wrote in the Harvard company Review last year. They noted various other examples, love Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein’s comments supporting gay marriage, or Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s job combatting gender discrimination.
Chatterji, an associate professor at Duke, and Toffel, a professor at Harvard, have actually previously studied Exactly how companies regulate their ethical reputations. There’s long been a tradition of companies contributing to the social good. McDonald’s, for instance, touts a charity for sick children. Oil and gas firm BP plays up its efforts to uphold human rights and protect the environment.
These kinds of projects are not wholly altruistic. Through their so-called “corporate responsibility” work, companies chance to yield a warm glow that attracts customers and softens politicians.
But gay marriage and race relations are lightning rod problems in America, and it’s not as soon as possible clear if speaking out on them will certainly attract customers or push them away.
“Just what we believe makes this brand-new is that several CEOs are now speaking out on controversial problems largely unrelated to the bottom line,”,” Chatterji says. “If you’re a businessperson, why would certainly you wish to alienate a large percentage of your customers?”
Recently, Chatterji and Toffel ran some online experiments to attempt to already know the impact of this social activism by CEOs. They used the example of Tim Cook and gay rights. The media wrote extensively regarding Cook’s op-ed, yet did truly adjustment the public’s mind?
In their very first experiment, the researchers wanted to see if they could sway people’s opinions of Indiana’s religious freedom law. One group was asked point-blank regarding the law. regarding half said they supported it. various other teams were told that some people believed the law was discriminatory. along with that knowledge, support for the law fell to 40 percent.
What was interesting was that it didn’t matter if the researchers used Tim Cook’s name or not in the experiment. every one of they had to do was mention that the law may condone gay discrimination, and support for the law dropped. There wasn’t anything special regarding the Apple CEO.
In the next experiment, though, the researchers discovered that Cook’s activism most likely didn’t hurt Apple’s business—instead, it helped. As soon as people were told that the Apple CEO had spoken out versus Indiana’s religious freedom law, they were much more most likely to say they intended to purchase Apple products in the near future. By contrast, As soon as people were told regarding among Tim Cook’s bland opinions on management philosophy, it had little effect on get plans.
It appears that Cook’s gay rights activism particularly inspired people to purchase from the company.
Cook’s activism was a lot of effective, of course, at opening up the wallets of people that currently supported same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage opponents didn’t appear to care one method or the other.
Chatterji and Toffel emphasize that this is merely one experiment regarding one recent example of CEO activism. They strategy on performing much more job exploring this phenomenon—Exactly how CEOs through history involved themselves in social movements, why recent CEOs appear to be more eager to take the lead on controversial issues, and whether their actions cost them customers.
The case of Tim Cook illustrates, at least, that engaging in hot-button problems might even be helpful for business. Even if his remarks weren’t particularly efficient at changing public opinion, as a famous figure he drew focus to the debate. And much more importantly, his activism position Apple in the news — reminding several Americans to purchase much more Apple products.