Large majorities of consumers expect engagement on social issues – even controversial ones – and employees are most satisfied at companies where leaders take strong public stands
Weber Shandwick / KRC Research / Powell Tate / United Minds surveyed Americans on corporate social engagement, divided attitudes around the term “woke” and recent Supreme Court rulings on affirmative action and LGBTQ+ issues. Major findings include:
- Most consumers expect companies to take public positions on critical social issues: human rights (82 percent), climate change (73 percent), racism (72 percent) and gun violence (70 percent)
- 84 percent of employees are satisfied with their job at companies where leaders speak up about critical events and issues
- 65 percent of employees say companies have a responsibility to speak up even if the issue is sensitive or controversial – up 7 percentage points since December 2022
- 55 percent of consumers said they had taken an action to oppose or support a company based on their positions or actions
- 52 percent see the Supreme Court affirmative action decision as a step toward ending racial bias in education
- 31 percent said their company being described as “woke” made them feel proud; 27 percent said they were fearful their company would be the target of aggression if perceived as woke
New research shows that Americans across party lines are deeply concerned about political and social divisions and believe businesses should find common ground to help bridge them.
Consumers overwhelmingly expect companies to take public positions on critical social issues such as human rights (82 percent), climate change (73 percent), racism (72 percent) and gun violence (70 percent). They also want companies to continue acting on commitments to employees and communities, including advancing financial and health equity and recruiting and retaining diverse talent.
When companies do not sufficiently demonstrate their values in the public square, consumers respond sharply: more than half (55%) said they had taken an action to oppose or support a company based on their positions or actions. Forty-four percent have boycotted a company to express protest and 36 percent have “buycotted,” demonstrating support by intentionally buying its products or services.
Business leaders are increasingly challenged on decisions related to social issues and public policy amid accusations of “woke capitalism” and “anti-ESG” rhetoric. Still, the survey’s findings show that the public – particularly young consumers and employees – want steadfast corporate leadership and advocacy.
Sixty-five percent of employees say companies have a “responsibility to speak up” even if an issue is sensitive or controversial – up seven percentage points since December 2022. Employee satisfaction is also higher at companies where leadership speaks up: 84 percent of employees are satisfied with their job at companies where leaders speak up about critical events and issues compared to 57 percent of employees satisfied with their job at companies where leaders do not speak up.
The findings were uncovered in a new Weber Shandwick / KRC Research / Powell Tate / United Minds survey, “Pulse on America: Public and Employee Opinions on Business and Societal Issues.” As political rhetoric heats up in the initial stages of the 2024 presidential election and in the wake of a highly contentious Supreme Court term, the survey explored attitudes on corporate social engagement and consumer activism, including attitudes around the term “woke,” as well as recent rulings related to affirmative action and LGBTQ+ issues.
Few consumers see the general tone in our country as civil and respectful. But with most employees back in workplaces, a strong majority of employees – 79 percent – report the general tone in their place of work is civil and respectful, and 73 percent are confident their employer is playing a positive role in addressing societal issues.
“Silence is an increasingly fraught option,” said Pam Jenkins, chief public affairs officer of Weber Shandwick. “These findings show that effective leaders recognize meaningful signals and bring clarity amid the noise surrounding social issues. Instead of retreating, they are creating thriving workplaces and earning brand loyalty and strong reputations by listening to their stakeholders and tackling tough issues head on – they’re contributing value to the people and communities that matter most to their success.”
Nearly 60 percent of respondents say they have heard the term “woke” used to describe a company or organization. More than 40 percent see it as a criticism and nearly 30 percent see it as an endorsement, the survey found.
In addition, over a quarter of employees (27 percent) report having heard their current organization described as “woke.” While 31 percent of these employees said that this makes them feel proud of their organization, many said they associated the term with fear: 27 percent said they were fearful their company would be the target of aggression if perceived as woke; 22 percent said they were fearful their employees would be the target of aggression if their company was perceived as woke; and 14 percent said they were fearful for their own personal safety if perceived as woke.
Most respondents said they agree with recent Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action, religious beliefs and redistricting. Indeed, 52 percent see the affirmative action decision as a step toward ending racial bias in education. Democrats and the Black community are divided on that point; about 60 percent of Republicans agreed with it. About 70 percent of employees said that the ruling will have a positive effect or no impact on their workplace.
Nearly 8 of 10 adults are highly concerned about misinformation and disinformation in both social media and traditional media. About 70 percent say they have concerns about how artificial intelligence (AI) will change society with more than 30 percent saying they are very concerned. Few are confident that the federal government will ensure safe and secure use of AI. But 63 percent of employees say they are confident their own employer will ensure safe and secure use of AI.
View the full study below or download as a PDF here.