Public Affairs Council
Global Trends

Toward Equity: Civil Rights Overtakes Sustainability for Corporate Engagement

Pressure on corporations to take positions on social issues is accelerating, and the push is increasingly from inside the organization. This is especially the case when issues of civil rights — meaning race, gender and sexual orientation — are involved, the Council’s Taking a Stand: How Corporations Engage on Social Issues survey finds.

Fielded this past July, over 80% of the companies that responded to the survey say they are engaged in these causes, with more than 70% publicly in support of gender identity equality.

This represents a shift in two significant areas: First, when the survey was last conducted in 2016, the overriding concern was environmental sustainability. (Back then, engagement in educational policy was more common than in efforts to reduce discrimination by race, gender or gender identity.)

The second shift involves the most influential source of the pressure to take positions on these questions. In 2016, most of the pressure came from senior management. That has remained stable — 79% in 2021 compared with 78% in 2016 — while the pressure from regular employees, which rose from 70% five years ago to 83% in 2021, has intensified.

Nine of 10 companies (91%) say pressure to engage on social issues has increased in the past three years, while only 60% felt that way in the earlier survey. And 96% feel that such expectations will only increase over the next three years.

As in 2016, the most common strategy employed by corporations to support a cause in 2021 is joining a coalition. The second most common strategy is issuing a supportive statement. While more than half (51%) of companies in 2016 lobbied for social issues at the state or local levels, this year that number dropped to 43%.

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