How should companies respond to global tragedies, wars, and acts of mass terrorism? Should business leaders speak out in internal emails to employees? To the public? If so, when? And what should they say? The horrifying attacks in Israel last week, the suffering in Gaza, and the threats of spreading antisemitism, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim violence, and regional conflict have tested business leaders on these questions.
Many have responded with statements condemning actions of violence and supporting those impacted. In a company-wide email sent Sunday, JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon kept employees apprised of the safety of their colleagues in the region, underscored the company’s values of equity and inclusion, shared the company’s efforts to assist in the humanitarian crisis, and offered support for all those who are suffering. Kathleen Hogan, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Microsoft, sent this note to support all employees. Starbucks messaged similarly. Verizon released a statement geared towards helping communities and consumers, committing $2 million to organizations supporting relief efforts and reportedly providing discounts and free services to customers trying to reach loved ones.
The adequacy of public statements in the context of such enormous human suffering is debatable. And not everyone thinks companies should be speaking out. In an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Harvard’s Arthur Brooks opined that public corporate silence doesn’t always mean violence. “Do consumers really care about what the CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken says publicly about the Middle East?” This piece by New York Times writer Elizabeth Spiers made the same point.
Our polling suggests that a majority of people think CEOs should take a stand on important societal issues with more believing that should be the case “no matter what the issue” versus “only if the issues are related to their business.”
I myself have struggled with it. Ultimately, I took my lead from JUST’s team. If they feel pain, or fear, or unsafe, then we have an obligation to listen, seek understanding, and act.
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JUST IN THE NEWS
JUST Capital’s Daniel Krasner, Research Manager, and Rachael Doubledee, Senior Research Manager, explore corporate disclosures related to supplier diversity. Their analysis finds that while 53% of America’s largest public companies disclose a policy to spend with diverse suppliers, only 22% share how much they actually spend with them.
JUST also speaks with supply chain veteran leader Reggie Williams, who’s credited with coining and popularizing the term “supplier diversity.” Williams shares why supplier diversity efforts are core to business value and inclusion, and how companies can approach them following the Supreme Court’s ruling on affirmative action.
In an article exploring rising calls for corporate America to reduce emissions from suppliers, CNBC points to JUST’s recent climate analysis, which found that despite an increase in climate commitments, we are not yet seeing a significant decrease in carbon emissions. Companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Walmart, and Apple are among those stepping up decarbonization efforts, with new requirements for suppliers to reduce emissions.
Last week, JUST President Alison Omens was featured in FT’s Agenda Week, discussing the SEC’s forthcoming amendments to its human capital rule and the Investor Advisory Committee (on which JUST’s Head of Investor Strategy Cambria Allen-Ratzlaff sits) recommendations for expanding its scope. Alison speaks about the growing interest in human capital data among board members and investors and the importance of these issues to the American public.
This week, on his podcast Leadership Matters, JUST Board Member Alan Fleischmann spoke with Zeynep Ton – MIT Professor and president of the Good Jobs Institute – in an insightful discussion on how business leaders can employ “Good Jobs” strategies in the workplace, particularly for essential workers.
JUST Advisor Carol Cone speaks with USA Today about her philosophy of “purpose” in business and why it’s critical for companies to align their business to a deeper, human reason for being. As the founder of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE and the podcast “Purpose 360,” Cone has been working with corporate leaders for many years on how to build purpose into their core operations and ultimately create value for all their stakeholders.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
[Image credit: Suzanne Bernier]
“Business leaders must proactively communicate with their employees throughout any crisis, including what’s happening now. Good leaders will use their words to be truthful and informative, while comforting employees and enhancing employee morale … As the mental health effects of these crises continue, it’s important for leaders to remind their employees about any Employee Assistance Program or other alternatives for mental health support.”
- Suzanne Bernier, president of SB Crisis Consulting, to JUST Capital on how to communicate with workers amid the terrorist attacks on Israel and the escalating Israel-Hamas war.
The Financial Times reports on SEC head Gary Gensler’s warning to regulators that an over reliance on too few AI models could lead to financial instability.
As more and more companies implement AI into their workstreams, firms are figuring out how to deploy the new technology most effectively. Some businesses are sharing libraries of tailored prompts designed to reduce inaccuracies while others, such as Starbucks, are creating in-house models. Fortune has the story.
LinkedIn will lay off 3% of its workforce in a restructuring effort aimed at optimizing around AI. Recently, the tech company released an array of new AI tools powering candidate discovery and business coaching.
Smithsonian Magazine writes about how a 21-year-old computer science student used AI to decipher text on a papyrus scroll from 79 C.E. Incredibly fragile, no attempts to read the text have been made since the 19th century.
In the wake of the Hamas terrorist attacks, Yale Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfield has begun tracking the corporate response – in particular, gathering a list of companies that have issued statements condemning the attacks, denouncing antisemitism, and expressing solidarity with Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.
Reuters looks more closely at some of the companies – many in the banking and tech industries – that have made statements and/or taken tangible action in support of Israel. This includes monetary aid as well as efforts like Amazon’s to keep AWS cloud service available for customers in Israel.
In a company-wide memo this week, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon addressed the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, letting employees know that “Hate has no place at this company and will not be tolerated,” and that the company would be making a $1 million philanthropic contribution to the humanitarian crisis. Fortune’s CHRO Daily highlights the memo as a powerful example for corporate leaders looking to communicate their company’s stance on the crisis with their teams.
For global corporations with operations in Israel, the question of how to respond presents particular challenges. Reuters covers the steps these companies are taking – from airlines like Delta that have suspended flights in and out of Tel Aviv to banks like Citigroup that are offering the flexibility for employees in Israel to work from home.
Axios shares a graph highlighting the sustained power of worker strikes. More than 330,000 Americans have participated in labor actions since the start of September.
Workers are asking for emergency savings accounts as a benefit from employers in the face of a difficult economic outlook. Due to high inflation and a possible recession, companies are offering more holistic financial plans to entice prospective employees. CNBC breaks down a new workplace wellness survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
CNBC writes about women’s position in the workforce and the “broken rung,” or the failure of businesses to promote women to managerial positions. Although gains have been made at the highest level, men are still more likely to be promoted over women at mid-level management.
Columbia Business School releases findings on how companies foster diversity across their organizations. One important finding, the “trickle-down effect,” discovered that businesses with more diverse boards hire a more diverse array of workers. This research comes at a moment when minority directors represent 20% of board seats among Russell 3000 companies for the first time in history.
Forbes details the accomplishments of Lukas Walton’s Builders Vision and how it’s distributed $3 billion to push its environmental and social goals forward, including healing the oceans and developing sustainable farming. Even though the foundation has major capital at its disposal, Walton has called for more support to tackle what he sees as trillion-dollar issues.
Chart of the Week
Our latest analysis of supplier diversity disclosures among the Russell 1000 finds companies are more likely to disclose a policy to spend with diverse suppliers, rather than the amount that they spent with these suppliers. Less than a quarter of companies in the 2022 and 2023 Russell 1000 disclosed a policy to spend with diverse suppliers as well as their actual spend amounts. Read the full analysis to learn how companies are disclosing spend across different categories of diverse suppliers and what best practice looks like.