Gerald Seib for the WSJ:
But if what business leaders are doing in the political arena is pretty obvious, why they’re stepping into that arena is less clear.
In part, this business activism is simply a sign of the times, and of the national environment. In a hyper-politicized climate, citizens increasingly expect or even demand political positions from everybody—celebrities, sports figures and, yes, business leaders. The cacophony from social media makes it harder to duck the tough political questions.
That expectation of corporate stand-taking is particularly high among younger Americans, so businesses are feeling the pressure from both younger customers and their own employees to take stands. Companies hoping to recruit young, tech-savvy talent know that corporate culture and reputation now are part of the equation potential employees consider when deciding where to land.
And because younger Americans tend to be on the left side of the political equation on political and racial-justice issues, they are pushing U.S. corporations in that direction. The Harvard Business Review last year published the results of a survey of 168 managers and MBA students, 80% of whom were under age 40, and found that 42% of them identified as liberal and just 27% as conservative—and that their views of a hypothetical company dropped significantly when they were told it held conservative values.
Yet there’s another factor that is less obvious: The very failures of the political system itself are forcing corporate leaders off the sidelines
“In some ways, the breakdown in the political system and the polarization has created this vacuum,” says Neil Bradley, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a former top Republican aide in the House. “Issues arise that are passionate, that can inflame both sides, and the political system used to have a way of dealing with those. You had senior statesmen who could bridge the divide and cool temperatures. You don’t have that today.”