Wherever you stand politically, everyone agrees that the 2016 election heralds a period of dramatic change. Many in the corporate world expect to reap profits as regulatory, trade, and tax policies change to reflect the ideology of those in charge in Washington, DC.
We are also likely to see a shift in the expectations coming out of Washington for corporate responsibility. And here, I believe, lies a tremendous opportunity for businesses to step up and lead the way.
Through example and regulation, the Obama administration called on American corporations to meet a high standard for social responsibility and diversity. Many businesses adopted progressive policies on LGBTQ equality, environmental stewardship, pay equity, and other issues some time ago, but during the last eight years, we've seen even more companies strive to meet these higher standards.
You might expect corporate America to abandon these high standards in the age of Trump, but that's not happening. In fact, many corporate leaders are reaffirming and even showcasing their commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. There is growing recognition that these values have an important place in our culture and society - and a positive impact on the bottom line - even if elected leaders don't share or promote them. As one insurance executive told
after the election, "Businesses that don't invest in diversity efforts will increasingly be at a competitive disadvantage, regardless of the political landscape."
Marriott is a great example. After the election, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson published an
congratulating Donald Trump for his victory and praising him for his magnanimous election night speech. Then Sorenson urged Trump to follow the GOP philosophy of less government to its logical conclusion by keeping government out of citizens' private lives.
"The government has no business in our bedrooms - or our bathrooms," wrote Sorenson. "Everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or identity, has a right to live without interference in their private lives. Similarly, everyone, no matter their sexual orientation or identity, gender, race, religion, disability, or ethnicity should have an equal opportunity to get a job, start a business, or be served by a business. Use your leadership to minimize divisiveness around these areas by letting people live their lives and by ensuring that they are treated equally in the public square."
Long before Obama set foot in the White House, Marriott cleared a high bar for diversity and inclusionary policies. But with this widely publicized letter to the newly elected president of the United States, Sorenson set a new standard, and confirmed Marriott's status as a modern leader on fairness and equality.
Businesses large and small are smart to communicate their commitment to diversity and inclusion. But as they do, I caution them to choose their words - and the medium used to deliver them - carefully, because communication is changing just as rapidly as the leadership in DC. We've seen how willing this president is to take an issue directly to the people via Twitter. It's a safe bet that leaders in your community, including state legislators, city mayors, and county commissioners will soon conduct themselves similarly (although, we hope, more responsibly), if they are not already doing so.
Political change always presents challenges and opportunities. Those who act with an eye toward the long term and who transcend partisanship and keep in mind the long arc of progress will continue to benefit from adopting inclusive policies that signal a commitment to diversity, fairness, and equality. In an atmosphere as complicated and fluid as this, small and medium-sized businesses and law firms are likely to need guidance on engaging carefully, thoughtfully, and successfully with customers and political leaders in their community.
Navigating this new world order is going to be a tricky business. Don't be afraid to ask for help along the way.