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CEOs who shy away from politics risk losing millennial employees and customers

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As companies continue to seek the winning formula for attracting millennial talent, new research from global public relations firm Weber and Shandwick and KRC Research finds that CEO activism may be the key to getting the attention of today's younger workforce.

According to the survey, 56 percent of millennials believe CEOs have a greater responsibility today than in years past to speak up about social issues, compared to just 28 percent of generation X and baby boomers.

While mixing corporate culture with politics may still be a line many CEOs are scared to cross, the report reveals that remaining quiet on social issues may actually do some harm, as 47 percent of those surveyed say CEOs who do not speak out risk criticism and 21 percent say silent CEOs risk declining sales.

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For company leaders who aren't afraid to take a public stance, the survey shows that 51 percent of millennials said they are more likely to buy from a company whose CEO spoke out an issue they agree with, and 44 percent of full-time millennial employees said they would be more loyal to their organization if their CEO took a public position on an issue.

One CEO who has been unapologetic about his company's involvement with social activism is former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

In 2015, Schultz received a lot of attention related to the company's "Race Together" campaign, which was intended to stimulate conversation about race relations in America among its customers. While the campaign was met with tough criticisms, Schultz made no apologies about the company's efforts.

"Race is an unorthodox and even uncomfortable topic for an annual meeting," he said during the company's annual shareholder meeting in 2015, according to The New York Times. "Where others see costs, risks, excuses and hopelessness, we see and create pathways of opportunity — that is the role and responsibility of a for-profit, public company."

Earlier this year, the collision of politics and corporate activism also played out when #DeleteUber started trending on social media. Some consumers saw Uber's tweet about a temporary suspension of surge pricing as an effort to capitalize on a strike by New York City taxi drivers protesting President Trump's controversial travel ban. Uber later responded, saying that was not the intent of the company's message, but over 200,000 customers reportedly deleted their Uber accounts within days of the incident.

While the idea of infusing activism into the workplace may still be uncomfortable for some, Harvard Business Review writers and professors Aaron Chatterji and Michael Toffel agree that the concept ties into the impact many executives are taught in school to pursue.

"As professors, we teach at business schools that encourage our students to transform not just the organizations they lead, but also the broader societies in which they operate," said Chatterji and Toffel.

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