Silicon Valley CEOs Rise to Social Change-Agent Challenge
Standing Up to Indiana’s Religion Freedom Bill Sets New SV Leaders Apart
When Gov. Mike Pence signed Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” bill into law last week, he thought he was doing a good thing. Little did he expect an explosion of national outrage that followed – from Hollywood and sports stars to his state capital's regional newspaper, The Indianapolis Star, printing its front-page editorial to “FIX THIS NOW.”
Fueled by a new age of social media flexing its muscles again and a more activisit cultural climate - especially fervent in this instance in more liberal areas of the country such as Boston, LA, New York and San Francisco – the outrage about the latest religious freedom bill just keeps on building.
Less attention has been given to the fact that Indiana is now the 20th state to enact similar legislation that could lead to legal discrimination in the U.S. Some of the loudest protests against it come from LGBT advocates and leaders who say the bill in Indiana, and others like it in Arkansas and other states, gives businesses new license to legally discriminate against gays, lesbians, transgender, transitioning or unidentified people.
While there have been some surprising corporate advocates who’ve been vocal in opposition to the legislation – such as Walmart – leaders of some of the most prominent corporate brands in Silicon Valley, including Apple, Salesforce and Yelp, have taken a very public stance against the legislation.
Last Sunday in a Washington Post Op-Ed piece, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote that the new Indiana law is dangerous and would allow residents of the state to discriminate against their neighbors by allowing citizens to “cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law.”
Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff was one of the first to publicly react to Indiana’s adoption of the new law by tweeting that his company is canceling all required travel to the state by Salesforce employees to avoid potential discrimination in the state.
This type of vocal activism on social causes sets a new wave of leaders in Silicon Valley apart from their predecessors. Previous tech industry leaders such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates were much more squarely focused on building brands and innovations than they were on social activism. They weren't vocal on touchier social issues that might upset customers, investors and prospects as some of today’s Silicon Valley CEOs are proving to be in the wake of the Indiana bill uproar since last week.
The reason for taking a stance and being more active in support of social causes has real merit and benefits for a brand and building a business. Especially as Generation Z takes center stage - a generation that wants to change the world for the better. Take for instance the public good will and revenues that Chipotle has gained by its decision to support consumers’ tastes for sustainability and nutrition as it continues to whop competition like McDonalds.
The outrage and activism from a new breed of Silicon Valley CEOs – along with celebrities like Star Trek’s George Takei and Will and Grace’s Megan Mullally and numerous organizations across the country – is a heartening new world order. It’s also becoming a new marketing "no brainer" for companies, brands and causes of all kinds to stand for something bigger than what you do or sell. Increasingly, it's more about who you are as a brand that will motivate your customers, employees and partners to want to do more business with you.
And for those taking offense at a social cause stance, perhaps your company or cause and employees are simply better off without them.
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