As brands are realizing, today’s consumers want businesses and leaders getting involved and taking sides on social and cultural issues—almost 4 in 10 (38 percent) of Americans are favorable toward CEO activism and 39 percent believe CEOs have a responsibility to speak out. A new survey from comms giant Weber Shandwick homes in on the technology industry to see where pros in one of the world’s most forward-looking sectors—such as software/application developers and software engineers, in seven global markets—stand on the issue.
The firm’s research finds high levels of positivity in the tech industry toward CEOs who speak out on hotly debated current issues. According to CEO Activism in 2018: The Tech Effect, commissioned by Weber, in partnership with KRC Research, 82 percent of tech professionals have a favorable opinion of CEO activists and 81 percent think CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about issues that are important to society—levels that are markedly higher than those of U.S. consumers reported by Weber’s most recent CEO activism study, CEO Activism in 2018: The Purposeful CEO, as cited in the opening graph.
“The new generation of technology professionals is a highly coveted group for companies in every market and every sector,” said Andy Polansky, CEO of Weber Shandwick, in a news release. “Because of their highly specialized and advanced skill set, they are being hired in increasing numbers by employers of all sectors, not just traditional technology companies. Our study, a first of its kind among this select audience, provides further evidence that the momentum for CEO activism is not going away and CEOs are increasingly expected to take principled positions on societal issues.”
Enthusiasm for CEO activism is high in all seven markets studied. Regardless of where tech professionals are geographically located, CEO activism is perceived overwhelmingly positive.
Favorability for CEO activism is also not limited to those employed by companies in the technology sector—tech professionals who work for technology companies have a slightly higher favorability than those in non-tech companies (86 percent vs. 81 percent, respectively), although they have a more intense affinity for it, with significantly more saying they are “much more” favorable (44 percent vs. 35 percent).
“The overall similarity of professionals in and out of the technology sector suggests that these workers share values that transcend the industries they work in,” says Weber Shandwick’s chief digital officer Chris Perry, in the release. “In a complex, hyper-connected world, the next generation of technology-savvy talent is keenly aware of changing norms and prefer to work for leaders that are solving for commercial and societal challenges of tomorrow.”
CEOs build tech-employee loyalty by standing up for company values
Nearly nine in 10 tech professionals (88 percent) agree with the statement, “CEOs need to speak out when their company’s values are violated or threatened” and, when asked why CEOs take public positions on issues, 35 percent believe it is “to be open and honest about how an issue aligns with company values.” Clearly, there is an expectation for CEOs to represent the company culture and values in a very public and demonstrative way.
The link between company values and CEO activism among tech professionals cannot be overlooked. The stakes are high when a large 79 percent report that they would be more loyal to their employers if their CEO took public positions on current issues and events. This deep level of loyalty is remarkably high across the markets in this study and in tech and non-tech sectors alike.
Women technology professionals surpass men on favoring CEO activism
On many key measures of CEO activism, female tech professionals hold even more positive views of CEOs speaking out than their male peers. On a statistically significant basis, they are more likely to agree that CEOs need to defend company values, they have a more favorable opinion overall of CEO activism and they are more likely to feel CEOs have a responsibility to speak out. Notably, 80 percent of women say their loyalty to their employers would increase if their organizations were led by CEO activists.
The finding that CEO activism matters so greatly to women technologists is important, with implications for attracting women to technology professions and retaining them. According to a UNESCO report, fewer than 30 percent of the world’s scientists are women, so any competitive advantage should be a consideration for companies today.
The issues technology professionals want CEOs to address
The survey presented respondents with a list of 19 current issues and asked them to identify which ones they feel CEOs and other business leaders should speak out on and express their opinion. More than two-thirds of respondents cite these issues as the most appropriate for CEOs to address publicly:
- Jobs skills/training (74 percent)
- Equal pay in the workplace (73 percent)
- Privacy and personal data protection (72 percent)
- Artificial intelligence (68 percent)
- Globalization (67 percent)
- Gender equality (66 percent) and healthcare coverage (66 percent)
The leading issues—job training, equal pay and data privacy—are all ranked as the top three issues by tech workers in and outside of the technology sector, suggesting that these are professional issues, not specific to any industry-specific challenges. Interestingly, gender equality is more highly ranked by non-tech sector employees, and this is directly driven by women technologists in the non-tech group.
Top 3 issues technology professionals want CEOs to address:
A guide to leveraging CEO activism to attract and retain tech pros
As the CEO activism movement builds momentum, companies have a rare opportunity to make an impact on tech professionals, who can be a hard to attract and retain segment.
“Although this tech segment acknowledges the risk of CEOs speaking up, they expect their leaders to be public advocates when it comes to issues that impact people’s lives,” says Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist Leslie Gaines-Ross, in the release. “They also see CEOs who speak up as consciously building corporate reputation and doing what is right for society and the world.”
Based on our ongoing findings from the series of research Weber Shandwick has conducted on CEO Activism over the past three years, Weber Shandwick recommends that CEOs and their companies consider the following guidelines to make the most of the CEO activism opportunity, whether they choose to speak out publicly or not.
- Recognize the advantage of CEO activism when it comes to attracting and retaining technology employees. This select group of employees is highly enthusiastic about CEOs speaking out on today’s hotly debated issues. Notably, they express increased loyalty to an employer whose CEO is a public advocate.
- Make company values crystal clear, both internally and externally. CEOs and companies are finding that they need to be accountable to their values. Technology employees are particularly values-driven, with nearly nine in 10 believing a CEO has a responsibility to defend the values of his or her organization.
- Take into account the issues that resonate most with tech professionals. Not surprisingly, tech professionals care most about issues that directly affect their jobs now but are also likely to consider the impact of technology on future generations of advanced technology professionals. The ongoing debate about responsible and irresponsible technology and its effects on society are not overlooked by this influential workplace segment.
- Understand the wide reach of CEO activism. It is not limited to the U.S. The desire for CEOs to speak out is highly desired by high tech professionals across the seven markets in our survey, despite the U.S. being the epicenter of the most notable CEO activist events of the past few years.
- Don’t overlook women technology professionals. On every level, their positivity exceeds the already high regard for CEO activism held by their male peers. At a time when companies are looking to attract more women technologists, CEO activism may be an advantage to promote in hiring activities.
Weber Shandwick partnered with KRC Research to conduct an online survey of 502 adults who reported to be employed in one of the following professions: software/application developer, software engineer, web developer, database administrator, computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software QA engineer, network system administrator, business intelligence analyst or data scientist. The survey describes CEO activism to respondents as follows: “In the past year or so, some chief executive officers (CEOs, or top leaders of companies) have spoken out publicly and taken a stand on controversial issues. For example, CEOs have spoken up about social, political and environmental issues such as climate change, income fairness, same-sex marriage, immigration, gun control and discrimination.” The survey was conducted from May 9 – June 6, 2018 in the following markets: Brazil (n=50), Canada (n=50), China (n=102), India (n=50), Mexico (n=50), the U.S. (n=100) and the UK (n=100).