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When company executives take a stand on social issues, the repercussions can be significant. Not only does the company run the risk of alienating employees, but taking a stand on a controversial issue can impact the company’s image and ultimately consumer purchasing behaviors. However, research on corporate social responsibility generally supports the notion that when companies get involved in societal issues, it can positively influence bottom-line financial performance. This article evaluates the advantages and disadvantages of taking a corporate stand on sensitive social issues and suggests guidelines that leaders should consider to increase the probability of success. Specifically, we found that oftentimes it is not the stand a leader takes but rather how that leader takes that stand. Moreover, we encourage business leaders to consider the delicate balance between fiduciary responsibility and social activism, to use a strategic approach, and to understand the legal repercussions before taking a stand on a social issue.
Numerous studies have contended that taking a stand on a social issue may lead to long-term competitive advantages. Therefore, when firms decide to support or oppose specific social issues, they should be aware that their positions may have an impact on business outcomes. Even though there is an overall benefit to firms in terms of perceptions and support when taking a political position, previous research shows that there is a strong effect with regard to whether consumers agree or disagree with the position of the organization. Insights from this article can be used to assist decision makers in organizations when contemplating taking a stand on a social issue. Organizational leaders should proceed cautiously and consider the potential benefits and risks associated with such an undertaking. An organization may experience increased support from consumers who agree with the political position taken by the organization, but it may simultaneously experience decreased support from those consumers who disagree.