The State of Corporate Purpose 2023 Trend 1: Purpose and Polarization Are Going Head-to-Head
Companies are grappling with how to drive change while acting as a unifying force for society.
Business remains the most trusted institution globally, according to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer. With this trust comes increased expectations to do the right thing on key societal issues. Companies who embrace this responsibility are a source of hope for driving positive change on the most challenging issues we face — whether that’s racial inequity and injustice or an intensifying climate crisis.
The good news is that as the world expected and demanded more from businesses in the past few years, many readily answered the call. When stakeholders explicitly told them they needed to step up, be vocal and take a stand, they used their power and platform for good. From supporting frontline workers, vulnerable populations and low-income countries that lacked vaccine access in the face of COVID-19, to making public commitments and acting to further racial justice and equity for Black, Indigenous and Asian people who were impacted by devastating events of racial hate, corporations proved they could be counted on in times of crisis. And those who meaningfully showed up were met with great accolades and allegiances, but also — in some cases — backlash, embroiling business in yet another threat to progress: polarization.
In this economically turbulent period, it’s become more difficult to decouple today’s societal issues from political undercurrents. In a time rife with rollbacks around access to reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare for women and LGBTQ people and an ongoing war in Ukraine, many companies are now finding themselves in a double bind: Avoid action and risk impeding much-needed progress and alienating a socially driven population. Or veer too deep into issues deemed political, tip into polarization and face negativity.
Regardless of where businesses stand on when, how or even if they will show up publicly on divisive yet important societal issues, employees remain invested in the idea that a company’s role is to help their people grow and evolve through consciousness raising, continuous learning and opportunities to make a positive impact.
The role of business in bettering employees
As corporate purpose programs mature and increase in importance, companies are recognizing their role is not only bettering the communities in which they operate but supporting their people in becoming better humans. What better actually looks like will vary from company to company.
In 2023, companies are left contemplating how they will straddle the seemingly impossible expectation to make progress on major issues, better their people and act as a unifying force for society in the face of politicization — all while the pressure of profits looms. It’s unsurprising that tension prevails among CSR leaders.
As companies consider balancing competing corporate and societal needs without adding to further division, every business will need to reflect on what better looks like for them and then use it as a North Star to guide them through the next period of uncertainty.
The question remains: How do you do this in a practical way that meaningfully represents your company’s mission and the values of your stakeholders?
Discover the top five emerging societal and industry trends shaping the future of CSR, DEI and ESG in The State of Corporate Purpose 2023.