Note: This article originally appeared on Yahoo Finance written by Allie Garfinkle. It is reposted here.
As election season approaches, companies must increasingly think about how they approach the social and political issues that will undoubtedly resurface.
“I think it’s very important that companies reflect on what the core of their business is,” Betsy Atkins, chair of Alphabet’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Google Cloud and board member at Wynn and GoPuff, told Yahoo Finance at the 2023 Milken Global Conference (video above). “Is it building a fantastic product, a fantastic service, or is it about trying to reshape the world? When companies decide that social and political issues are their most important thing, that’s when they get into trouble.”
Atkins floated Netflix (NFLX) as an example.
“They had such a unified view and were on one side of the political spectrum that their creative teams created content for only one side,” Atkins said. “Finally, they realized they were losing half the market. So they had to go back and say, at Netflix, we’re going to create content for all.”
On the other hand, Atkins – who has served on more than two dozen corporate boards in her career – expressed concern about software provider Salesforce (CRM) and how its activism has left it vulnerable.
“The problem where you get too focused on social issues… is that you unfortunately divide your employees because, by their nature, politics is divisive,” Atkins added. “It’s not inclusive, it’s not unifying, and you want every mental calorie to be dedicated to the company’s business. You want an open environment where all views are welcome and you don’t demonize your colleagues. You want the broadest set of views, but also the most diverse and inclusive.”
She stressed that political stands can affect the bottom line, so they should be done thoughtfully.
“I think we make sure we get all the best ideas that we create a great environment for,” Atkins said. “Everybody has a voice, but … our business is our business.”
So, what should companies do? How should they approach speaking out on political issues, when they do?
“The best way to do it is to create a policy and, with that policy, say when you speak as a company, why you speak,” Atkins said.
“I would actually put the principles out there to your employee base and through your leadership team,” she continued. “We’re going to create a policy on what are our beliefs, what are our values, and when we opine, when we engage, why do we engage? Is it relevant for us as a company? How do we do it in a constructive way that drives us into a place of unity and cohesiveness?”